WAPS terminates online program | New

by ALEXANDRA RETTER

Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) will not be continuing their online learning program. School board members voted 6-1 at their June 16 meeting to accept the trustees’ recommendation to discontinue the online learning program, WOLA (Winona Online Learning Academy), and seek other options for offer e-learning in the future. The school board has asked administrators to present a new online learning plan to the board on July 21 so the board can vote on it on August 4.

All school board members, with the exception of school board member Karl Sonneman, voted to end WOLA.

In early June, administrators recommended the district end the e-learning program, citing WOLA’s cost and enrollment. Enrollment is expected to be 48 students next year and the cost of the program is estimated at approximately $839,000. Some board members initially expressed reluctance to end the program. They said they wanted to discuss the trustees’ recommendation further and expressed concern about the loss of students by scrapping the program. Ultimately, the school board voted to end WOLA last week.

The continuation of the program would have required an increase in staff costs. Superintendent Annette Freiheit said last week that for the online learning program to receive official state approval, WAPS would have to add teachers, which would increase costs. She added that the average cost per student with online learning is high. With an expected enrollment of 48 students next year in the online learning program, she said, funds from the program could be directed to other initiatives to reach more students.

However, some students may still prefer online learning. For WOLA students, returning to in-person classes would be an option, Freiheit said. If students qualify for alternative learning center services, online learning may still be an option, she continued. Otherwise, going to an e-learning provider outside of WAPS would be an option, she said.

School Board President Nancy Denzer pointed out that the district has software licenses for an online learning platform outside of WOLA and asked if WAPS could use them for WOLA students. Freiheit said the district should investigate the possibility.

Several school board members expressed concerns about what families of students in the program would do in the future. School board member Jim Schul asked what the district would say to families who anticipated WOLA having been around for three years, as originally reported by the district in hopes of increasing enrollment. Freiheit repeated that the district could not cover the costs of the program without sacrificing other initiatives.

Sonneman said he was worried about letting families down and that it would be helpful to continue the program for a year rather than figuring out what to do with it this summer. “I think WOLA is so important that we shouldn’t let it go until we know we have something better,” he said.

By contrast, school board member Michael Hanratty said deciding to end the program now would mean other initiatives could go ahead next school year, instead of waiting another school year for students. enforce.

School board member Tina Lehnertz said the school board had to make cuts to programs with small enrollment in the past, and this was a case where it should happen again.

Next year’s budget does not take into account the potential loss of enrollment and revenue in the online learning program, said chief financial officer Sarah Slaby. This means that the district reduced spending for online learning and could allocate that funding to other costs, but did not decrease program revenue and assumed that all WOLA students would remain enrolled.

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Karen O. Fielding