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$2.1 million Initial Cost Projected For Two Lakeland Charter Schools


MINOCQUA – A three-year commitment to host two charter schools for those living with autism in 7th-12th grades will cost Lakeland area schools $2.1 million, according to a financial projection prepared by school officials.

The Lakeland Union High School (LUHS) board of education Monday, Nov. 27 unanimously voted to seek state approval for the two charter schools. Funding however has not been addressed with a vote. The charter schools partnership would comprise LUHS, Lac du Flambeau Elementary School, Arbor Vitae-Woodruff Elementary School, North Lakeland Elementary School, and Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk Elementary School.

The Northern Wisconsin School/Academy for the Diverse Learner, as it will be called, would have an initial enrollment of 18 between the two charter schools for the 2018-19 school year. The NW School would have six students from each of the seventh and eighth grades. The NW Academy would have six students from ninth grade (following two years, from 9th-12th grades). While the charters would be open to all students, the desired enrollments are those living with Asperger’s Syndrome and others on the autism spectrum.

LUHS Director of Business Services Greg Kopp said an anticipated private donation of $150,000 would cover start-up costs in 2017-18. He projects an overall $664,312 deficit for the first full year of operation, then $627,495 in 2019-20, and $826,359 in 2020-21. The five school districts would have a three-year financial commitment as follows: $347,000 for each of the four elementary school districts, and $731,000 for the high school, according to Kopp’s projections.

From the audience, Gregg Walker urged the board to approve the schools. He has a child with autism and has been in the forefront of seeking creation of the charters. He said the $150,000 donation had been received that day, and promised supporters would raise more funds from private sources. He also said that tribal council of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Chippewa Indians is committed to seeking funding for the program. Because LUHS is at its state-mandated levy limits, the board would likely tap its “fund balance” to finance its share of the charter schools, said board member Tom Gabert afterwards.

The fund balance stands at about $8 million. Fund balance is used to bridge payroll and other needs until taxes are received from the various towns. It allows the district to avoid short-term borrowing. Officials say student enrollment would be 24 in its second year and 30 in the third, expanding to include 10th graders in the second year and 11th graders in the third year. The first year’s enrollment would come only from those currently enrolled in one of the five schools, but future enrollments would be open, meaning students from other districts could apply. Students would be selected through a state-mandated lottery system.

The five districts – all of which operate separately – would have to agree to pay the net cost increase per student for the number of students enrolled from their respective district, along with a $25,000 membership fee. However, it’s possible after year one that an outside school district might refuse to pay the membership fee if a student was chosen from that district. As with all open enrollees, the receiving district gets the state aid (currently $12,200) for that student. Costs per student in the two unique charter schools would be substantially higher because of the very low teacher-student ratio, plus the specialized support staff needed.

The consortium has not secured a site for the charters, although they are eying the Nicolet College’s Lakeland campus, immediately adjacent to the high school. There would be remodeling costs to accommodate the charter students.School board president Ed Schaub said while no vote was taken at the recent meeting of the Nicolet College board of education, board comments were favorable to allow its use for the charter schools. The Nicolet board will take up the request at its January meeting.

MHLT Supt. Jim Ellis was at Monday’s meeting to explain how his board and administration interacts with a governing board that oversees the two current charter schools at his school. That model would be used with the two new charters. MHLT would be the authorizing agent for the 7th-8th grade charter, while LUHS would be the authorizing agent for the 9th-12th grade charter. The governing board and the two respective school boards would enter into a contract. Also needed: a contract that allocates costs between the two schools and contracts or memorandums of understanding (MOU) that outline costs per student agreement and the membership fee agreements. LUHS is now seeking applicants for the position of director/lead teacher at the charter schools

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