La Crosse School District superintendent says merging some facilities is ‘only viable option’

Declining school enrollment and aging buildings are reasons why school leaders are seriously considering merging some facilities

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The School District of La Crosse is facing a dilemma as its buildings get older and enrollment declines.

School leaders and parents are discussing what the district’s buildings might look like in the future.

A focus group session is happening inside Longfellow Middle School Wednesday evening about the district’s long-term facility plan between school leaders and parents.

One option includes possibly merging Logan and Central High Schools someday.

The future of what the school district could look like is not coming without lots of mixed opinions.

Some people prefer the district keeps its buildings separate and have them repaired.

Mary commented on social media, saying, “We like neighborhood schools. And one big high school or middle school isn’t a good idea.”

Other community members are all for the idea to merge some of the districts’ buildings.

Betsy comments, “it will be weird at first but I think necessary for the future.”

This is why the district is holding its second focus group session: to get a better idea of what school should look like down the road.

“When people get the background information and get more of that context, they understand that we need to make changes as we move forward,” superintendent Dr. Aaron Engel said.

Engel says declining enrollment and aging buildings are reasons why leaders are seriously considering merging some of the district’s facilities.

“Right now, that’s really the only viable option going forward,” Engel said.

Engel says the district is first prioritizing Emerson and Spence elementary schools, all three middle schools and Hogan Administrative Center because they are the oldest buildings.

“Those are the six buildings that we’re really focused on in terms of assessing their needs and viability as we move forward,” he said.

It costs around $31 million just for maintenance of those buildings.

“It wouldn’t even add to their educational capacity,” Engel said. “We wouldn’t get modern buildings out of that.”

These are all ideas that are years in the making, and Engel says any final decisions made will have the community’s support.

“We need to right-size our facilities with our enrollment and become more efficient,” Engel said.

To put decreasing enrollment into context, Engel says the district has lost around 1,400 students over the last 20 years. Enrollment is expected to drop even more over the next decade.

Five of the district’s buildings are more than 80 years old.

Engel says the only way some schools aren’t merged is if they get a lot of money from the state, which will not likely happen.

The focus group session Wednesday is the last open session for the community.

Engel says the district is planning to send a survey to parents in the fall with next steps. The district may consider going to referendum next year depending on the feedback from that survey.