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Parents look to private schools in light of controversy

With Duluth's public schools in turmoil over the school board's proposal to close five elementary schools in the next two years, parents are exploring other options.

With Duluth's public schools in turmoil over the school board's proposal to close five elementary schools in the next two years, parents are exploring other options.
Schools outside of the public school system are getting calls from parents who are considering pulling their children out of public education.
On the flip side, what may be detrimental to public education could turn out to be beneficial to parochial, private and charter schools.
"I feel bad that our growth may be a result of something negative happening in the public school system," said Amy Flaig, principal at St. Michael's Lakeside School, "but we're happy about the growth."
This is the time of year for Catholic schools to recruit new enrollment, but Flaig said that St. Michael's has received extra inquiries this year as a result of the school board's proposal. At least a half-dozen families have called or visited the school.
"The people we've talked to haven't decided but are checking out their options," Flaig said.
St. James Catholic School and St. John's School have had a similar response from parents. Dan Glisczinski, principal at St. John's, said the community has expressed a significant interest in the school, and enrollment is growing.
"We've seen some interest, more than usual for this time of year," said Sharon Pristash, principal at St. James. "Who knows what parents' commitment level is right now."
Pristash was already expecting an increase in enrollment apart from parents reacting to possible school closings. Next year St. James will add a seventh grade -- and the year after that an eighth grade.
"That's obviously going to increase enrollment," Pristash said. "Parents have been begging for this for years," she added, because options for middle schools are limited in the western area of the city. "We're just trying to meet the needs of our people."
Attending a non-public school does cost a family money, however. At St. John's parents pay a tuition of $1,500 a year. Tuition at St. Michael's is $2,255 a year, while tuition at St. James is $1,600 for parish members and $1,900 for non-members.
"When you look at paying tuition, people do get freaked out by that, but tuition costs a lot less than day care," said Flaig, pointing out that a family with three kids can cost up to $8,000 a year in child care.
Parents pay $5,000 in tuition at Summit School, a private and independent elementary school. That's $1,000 less than the average revenue generated per student in the Duluth public school system.
Summit also is expected to benefit if public school closings occur. Joanna Regnier, head of school, has already given tours to parents who may transfer their child out of public schools because of the recent situation.
"It's only going to benefit us if things do happen," Regnier said. Although she said it is unfortunate, because it will cause dissension between public and private schools.
"I think people should just keep in mind that they're trying to do what's best for their kids rather than be angry at somebody," Regnier said.
The five elementary schools slated to be closed include Birchwood, Chester Park, Lester Park, Piedmont and Rockridge. Also, Lowell would become a middle school and Ordean would change to an elementary school. Plus, middle schools and high schools would change from a seven-period day to six periods. The School Board plans to vote on the proposal on March 28.

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