No high school for EdisonWhile 90 percent of parents with children in Duluth Public Schools Academy say they would like to see a high school option for their grade-schoolers, a task force has found that creating one isn’t feasible, at least for now.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
While 90 percent of parents with children in Duluth Public Schools Academy say they would like to see a high school option for their grade-schoolers, a task force has found that creating one isn’t feasible, at least for now.
The task force was formed in January to explore the idea, and its findings were presented to the academy board Tuesday night. Right now, the academy runs two popular charter schools, North Star for grades K-8 and Raleigh for grades K-5.
The success of those schools is part of what hampers the formation of a high school. Task force members found that too many financial sacrifices would need to be made in the current programs to make a grade 9-12 school successful.
“There’s an audience for a smaller high school in Duluth,” said Bonnie Jorgenson, head of Duluth Edison Charter Schools, which both schools fall under. She said efforts will continue to find ways to make a high school possible. The board on Tuesday voted to keep the task force in place to keep working the numbers and finding ways to get money.
The task force found that the school would need more than $1 million to keep from going into huge debt while ramping up a high school. The formula had the grades starting one at a time for four years, starting with a ninth-grade class that would eventually become the first senior class.
Jorgenson told the board that high schools are much more difficult to staff than grade schools because of required specialties for teachers to follow state rules. It would mean cutting away from the grade schools for specialty teachers and fine arts instruction, she said.
“It would damage our K-8,” she said.
While parents who were surveyed overwhelmingly support exploring a high school, they also hold dear the specialized education the small schools offer. More than 1,300 students are expected at the schools this fall. Jill Moline, the academy’s finance manager, said that given the current enrollment, a new high school could easily have 100 students to a class but the school would need 125-150 per class to be feasible under current state aid formulas. She said the academy would go into “substantial debt” if it started a high school now, racking up at least $200,000 to $300,000 deficits in the first few years.
The idea would be to make any new high school academically rigorous and offer the individualized attention students now get in the two schools, said task force member and curriculum expert Jen Fuchs. That commitment is cost-prohibitive, she said.
“No, not at this time,” task force chairman Tim Golden told the board in summing up the findings. He said things could change in 18-24 months with a better economy and changes to charter school funding policies in the state Legislature.
The volunteer task force isn’t costing anything and any expenditure in the future would need to be approved.
The task force split into three subgroups that investigated possible locations for a high school, what the curriculum would be and how the finances would project out.
Charter schools can’t use their state student funding to purchase buildings and must enter intricate lease deals with middle companies for facilities. Those rents must be approved by the state, which offers aid for the rent. The new North Star school off Rice Lake Road was built using a company that agreed to lease it to the school.
The best facility option turned out to be the Duluth Armory on London Road. Task force member Paul Goossens said that while there were “no ideal facility options,” the Armory was the “most promising” despite site limitations and amenities.
“The numbers are in the ballpark,” he said of using the Armory. He told the board that the real estate market might open up given time or bonding and interest rates could change for any potential construction partners.
“We are committed to actively seeking grant funding,” Jorgenson said of the continuing exploration into the high school.
And then there is wishful thinking, at least from the finance manager.
“Everyone should ask around and see if anyone wants to donate $1.5 million over three years,” Moline said.