The Duluth Edison Charter Schools board voted Tuesday to begin serious talks with a developer to build a new high school.

If Pacific Cos. - the Idaho developer set to purchase the Snowflake Nordic Ski Center land along Rice Lake Road - can build a school on that property that fits the charter’s needs for what it can afford, a lease agreement will be hammered out and presented to the board for approval by the end of March. A new charter high school tentatively would be set to open on the property near Edison’s existing K-8 North Star Academy in 2016.

The board of directors voted unanimously to begin talks, with one member recusing himself.

An Edison high school would hold about 660 students, beginning with freshmen and a partial class of sophomores the first year. One plan under consideration would be to move the eighth grade to the high school building to allow for more students in the sixth and seventh grades at North Star Academy.

Duluth Edison language arts teacher Mary E. Lynch spoke during the public comment period to voice her objection to that idea, and to a new high school.

“I do think that a middle school program is really, really important at the age,” Lynch said, and separating the eighth-graders would harm the program and the students.

Lynch said she also was skeptical about the anticipated enrollment, asking for further surveying of parents. There are things Edison can’t offer, she said, and that could affect enrollment.

“What if we are vastly below the number?” she asked. “How will that impact our finances, our future?”

Danielle Perich, principal of Duluth Edison’s Raleigh Academy, said large numbers of parents from her school were in support of a high school.

“It’s really an exciting time” for Edison families, she said.

Pacific Cos., a builder of charter schools and housing, would build a school with Edison’s input and needs, and Edison would pay the company annually with lease aid from the state based on an enrollment formula.

The resolution voted on by the board says a negotiated lease would include yearly payments of $1.7 million. The project is estimated to cost more than $20 million.

Parents for years have asked for a high school, said Bonnie Jorgenson, head of Duluth Edison.

They often have cited the city’s large high schools and lack of academic rigor, she said. But, she noted, more financial questions need to be answered before a decision should be made to open an Edison high school.

“There are a lot of things people want in this building and certain things that are essential,” Jorgenson said. “We need to find out what’s possible.”

Addressing concerns, she said further research would go into enrollment projections. Retention rates for various grades are between 90 percent and 95 percent, she said.

While eighth-graders could be housed in the high school, they wouldn’t be part of it. The move would be made for financial reasons, Jorgenson said, and there would be discussion on where the students would be located in relation to the high school students.

A task force has for months studied the idea of a new high school. Paul Goossens, a member of that group, said Tuesday night he was “extremely relieved” by the board’s decision.

The market seems to demand another choice in Duluth, he said, but if things don’t come together the group would need to start over.

“We’re not going to meet everyone’s expectations about a building,” he said, but he’s confident an agreement can be made that works with Edison’s vision.

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