School board approves plan to restructure the Wausau School District

The changes are set to begin in 2025
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 8:51 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2023 at 7:56 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Wausau School Board has approved a plan for the restructuring of the Wausau School District. The board approved the plan by a 7-2 vote Monday night.

Discussions about restructuring the Wausau School District have been happening for the better part of a decade now, but in the spring of 2022, the school board decided they wanted to make a decision about it as the district is facing a number of long-term challenges.

The restructuring plan would realign the grades within each school. Elementary schools would house students in Pre-K to fourth grade; the middle schools would be for students in grades fifth through seventh; a junior high school would be for those in eighth and ninth grade, and a senior high would house students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.

Fifth-grade students would move to Horace Mann and John Muir. Wausau East would become the junior high and Wausau West would become the senior high. The proposal calls for the closure of five elementary schools: Hewitt-Texas, Grant, Franklin or Hawthorn Hills, Rib Mountain, and Lincoln. They would also create two early learning centers. The School Board believes this will better educate Wausau students and even some teachers believe that too.

“They felt they could just be more effective and better for the kids if they had larger teacher teams, if they merged all of their intervention staff and special ed staff, so it was really encouraging, “ says the Superintendant of the Wausau School District Dr. Hilts.

The district is looking at implementing this plan by the 2025-2026 school year. However, conversations regarding staggering the implementation of this plan over the course of a couple of years are still ongoing.

At the school board meeting Monday night, the board discussed some reevaluated topics that were brought up during the Jan. 23 meeting including questions surrounding transportation for students and how implementing a district restructure would look in the coming years. While the board has seen some pushback on restructuring, it’s their belief that if plans do not go through, enrollment, revenue, staffing, and available school programs will all see a drastic decline. The School Board knows not everyone is going to agree with their vision and it will take some work.

“All of us want to do the right thing, currently we kind of disagree on what that should look like, which is okay,” says Superintendant Dr. Hilts.

“When they start to ask their questions and we answer their questions and start to explore some of the possibilities they are, they’re are very few people who don’t come around and say oh, this could be really special,” says Superintendant Dr.Kilts.

One of the biggest issues that has come up during restructuring discussions is the bussing system in the school district. A study conducted by First Planning found that 31 students currently have morning bus rides of more than an hour long and 73 have afternoon bus rides of more than an hour long. For the time being, all secondary students living outside of a 2-mile radius of their school will continue to utilize the MetroRide system where available.

“It’s always been about bringing resources together to provide the maximum benefit to our students and staff to create an excellent set of programs, curriculum, everything, for our students,” said School Board Treasurer Jon Creisher.

School Board Vice President Lance Trollop said that when restructuring discussions first began more than a decade ago, a vote was taken among the board committee to score certain aspects and it was discovered that the item that scored the highest was the option to put the fifth graders in the middle schools and then consolidate elementary schools.

The school board stated that restructuring the district would alleviate any issues that could come with staffing and in turn available programs. A STEM pathway system would be implemented in schools and would include courses for students such as culinary arts, sports medicine, engineering, and entrepreneurship. Grade 12 would be largely a career capstone experience for students. Developing a competitive advantage for the future workplace through community engagement with pre-apprenticeships, capstone field trips, dual credits, and applicable certifications.

Staffing issues were also discussed in the meeting. On one hand, teachers and staff would be able to teach in their specialized career field under a restructuring. Class sizes would also be more evenly distributed. Questions rose about how staff would be able to handle more students per classroom, but student numbers would not be critically uneven between consolidated schools. Additionally, a staffing timeline was also set in that initial projections for staff members would be complete by February 2025 with the board approving final contracts and plans by May 2025. The School Board wants people to know everyone is involved in these important conversations, especially parents and staff.

“Bring everybody to have a seat at the table and figure out how we recreate the Wausau School District, and what that really looks like,” says Wausa School District Media Relations Diana White.

The board voted to amend one aspect which was going to reallocate referendum funds from Horace Mann/Montessori and Grant to create a 2-story addition at Wausau West. The board voted on a motion to implement a district restructure in 2025, but it has not approved in what method it will do so and states that conversations will need to continue.

To view the approved proposal, click here.