The proposed plan to help keep Lebanon Elementary School open took a big step forward Wednesday.

During an informational meeting about the plan at Lebanon Elementary School, Watertown Unified School District Superintendent Cassandra Schug announced that the school would follow an environmental/outdoor education concept. This concept would allow for the school to utilize its location and the neighborhood as well as help to draw families in and around the area, according to Schug.

“The Lebanon community provided the team with some valuable feedback regarding supporting the proposed direction of Lebanon Elementary as a project-based school with an environmental/outdoor education concept,” Schug said. “The Lebanon Planning Team has worked to find a concept that would be a good match to the geographical location of Lebanon School as well as one that would be appealing to a diverse range of students and families.”

The new concept would not be implemented until the 2021-2022 school year with the 2020-2021 school year being dedicated to planning and preparation towards the new model, according to Schug.

According to the presentation given by Schug, this would be a unique opportunity for the school as no other school districts in the surrounding area, including Oconomowoc, Lake Mills or Jefferson, have a school with this focus. The school currently sits on 6.4 acres of land which, according to the presentation, makes it possible to use for environmentally based projects such as creating a prairie, building a greenhouse or chicken coop or creating a sustainable garden, among others.

Schug said the school would combine the environmental and outdoor education with a focus on project-based and place-based learning, where students can learn from the natural environment around them. The environmental education would be integrated in reading, writing, math and social studies.

Lebanon will also adjust its enrollment and classrooms, accordingly.

According to the presentation, Lebanon will be open to all WUSD students as well as students applying through open enrollment. Lebanon has a capacity to serve 70 students and would divide the population into three multi-aged classrooms of 23 students each, including at least one seat for students with special needs.

With the school currently having 56 students enrolled, the district will target 14 open-enrollment or new-to-district students for the 2021-2022 school year to reach maximum capacity, according to the presentation. These new students would have financial implications for the school as well.

If all 14 students come to the school through open-enrollment, each would bring in $7,771 in state aid to the school and each student with special needs would bring in $12,723 to the school, which would earn the school a total of $123,650. If all the students come from new-to-district, each year for the first three years, the students would bring in additional revenue. In the first year, each student would bring in $3,333 each, the second year each student would bring in $6,666 each and the third year each student would bring in $10,000 each, meaning the school would add $46,662 total in the first year, $93,324 total in the second year and $140,000 total in the third year.

The current budget for the school is at $422,837. If the school were to implement the new program while addressing capital needs of the school, including adding security cameras, sealing the parking lot and playground, and upgrading lighting and air conditioning, the cost is projected to jump to $583,011 for 2021-2022, but thanks to the possible revenue from new enrollment would only increase $36,524 to $459,361 for the school year. In 2022-2023, the cost would go to $419,361 with the projected revenue and in 2023-2024 the cost would go to $403,011. Without any capital improvements, these numbers would fall to $402,187 in 2021-2022, $362,187 in 2023-2024 and $345,837 in 2023-2024.

Following the presentation, the audience broke into three groups to list on boards throughout the gym their pros, cons and other considerations. Pros listed on the concept included it being a great fit for the community, project-based learning, multi-grade classes, lots of resources, maintains standards of the district, open to special education, utilization of space, community support and less regulations because it is outside of the city. The cons listed included how to incorporate more agricultural concepts into learning, a need to explain what does a typical day look like, explain what percentage of each day is dedicated to place-based learning, the perception from others in the district, community and area and how do you differentiate Lebanon Elementary from surrounding districts. Other considerations mentioned were to include financial charts in the presentation, including the current income generated for a current Lebanon student, include city regulations, seek a donation for materials, create a financial subcommittee, increase marketing efforts at events, potential use of solar power to reduce cost and the question of wheter it has a benefit for the rest of the WUSD.

Upon conclusion of the wrap-up, the audience thanked the plan team and gave them a round of applause.

Rhonda Boyd, an alumni of the school and a parent of an alumnus, said she thought the concept fit well with the community surrounding it.

“The environmental concept is a good start. I’m looking forward to how we will implement the environmental and agricultural work into the new concept,” Boyd said. “It’s an excellent fit because Lebanon is a community where people are always striving to be creative and work together, It’s awesome that we’re looking for ways to take advantage of our wide open green space.”

The next discussion on the Lebanon School decision will be on Monday during the school board meeting at Riverside Middle School at 6 p.m.

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