The Tomah School will ask the state Department of Public Instruction if it can start class before Sept. 1. The board voted 6-0 Monday to seek a waiver from the state mandate during its regular monthly meeting at Robert Kupper Learning Center.

State law prohibits public schools from starting before Sept. 1, but the board will ask DPI to determine whether Lemonweir Elementary School’s 45/15 calendar qualifies as a “school of innovation,” which would trigger an exemption from the law.

The board also approved a calendar that complies with state law and begins classes Tuesday, Sept. 4. School district superintendent Cindy Zahrte urged the district to pass the conventional calendar because it’s far from certain whether DPI would approve the waiver. Tomah is the first district to seek a waiver, and the Sept. 1 mandate has support from the tourism and hospitality industry, which has lobbied hard against efforts to change the law.

“We don’t know where the DPI stands,” Zahrte said.

Zahrte said a second survey sent to parents revealed considerably more support for a September start than one sent out earlier. She said the second survey allowed respondents to view complete calendars rather than just start dates, which she said triggered more votes for the September option. Fifty-one percent favored the Sept. 4 date, 41 percent favored Aug. 22, and the remainder had no preference.

Board member Nancy McCoy said the survey shouldn’t dissuade the district from seeking the waiver.

“The survey is nice, but I’m not sure it should be the determining factor,” she said.

Zahrte has said that the Aug. 22 start would align more regular school days with Lemonweir’s summer calendar and save on transportation costs. Lemonweir began its first year of an extended calendar last summer. Students at Lemonweir get a six-week summer vacation before returning to class in mid-July.

In other business, the board heard an update on the Tomah Area Montessori School. Principal Tim Gnewikow presented numbers showing a waiting list of 16 students for 4K and kindergarten classes. Total enrollment is 57 students grades 4K through fourth grade.

The board is seeking expansion through sixth grade, but Zahrte said there are space and funding issues to address. The district is in the third year of a five-year contract with the charter school for grades 4K-2.

Applications for the 2018-19 year’s class are due March 16, and if applications exceed available openings, a lottery will be held March 22.

The board also:

  • Heard a report on enrollment projections. According to the Applied Population Center in Madison, Tomah can expect slight to moderate growth in enrollment over the next 10 years. The center does not project a decline.
  • Approved advanced marketing and second-year photography classes at Tomah High School. The marketing class has potential to transfer credit to Western Technical College.
  • Approved the June 30, 2017, audit report.
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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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