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Lakeland School Board Approves Charter School Agreement

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MINOCQUA – The proposed charter school for students with autism at Lakeland Union High School advanced another step Monday with the school board’s approval of the contract between the district and the governing council of the Northern Wisconsin Academy for the Diverse Learner Charter School.

The governing council (also referred to as “governance council”) will basically run the high school program with oversight from the LUHS administration and school board. They plan to provide specialized education this fall semester after they get permission from the state Department of Public Instruction. It’s one of two proposed charter schools that will focus on providing education for youth with autism. The other is a middle school for 7th and 8th graders with Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk School providing oversight. Both will be located in the Nicolet Area Technical College building on the Lakeland campus. The building is being turned over to the LUHS District.

According to the agreement, the governing council “shall oversee the operational, financial, educational and collaborative aspects of the charter school.” The charter school’s teachers will be employees of the LUHS District, with ultimate hiring authority by the district superintendent and school board.

Gregg Walker, a member of the governing council, said in-hand donations to the charter school have now reached $355,000. “The moneys we are looking at right now we probably going use that to get the building ready,” he said of the Nicolet building. He was optimistic that they would get the additional donations and funding necessary for the program, including from state sources. “The politicians are waking up,” he said of growing awareness of autism numbers.

In response to school board member Tom Gabert who asked about “sustainability” of financing, Walker said the group has a lot of resources they can tap into. Among them is support from the Howard Young Foundation, which is establishing a separate fund for autism donations within its own foundation. And the group continues to add businesses to its list of financial supporters, he said.  The district board has not taken a vote on providing funds for the charters.

An earlier financial projection by local school administrators and the LUHS business manager puts the cost of the first three years of running the two charter schools at $2.1 million. District Administrator/Principal Jim Bouche said afterwards that they are still working on determining how much the district will need to spend on the school, in part, because they are waiting on fundraising by the governing council. “That’s going to be a continued conversation,” he said. In a related measure, the school board accepted the early termination of the lease between Nicolet and LUHS for the building. Nicolet is searching for another building to house off-campus classes in the Minocqua area. It will also use classrooms at LUHS for its needs.

The high school charter school will accommodate upwards of 10 students in grades 9-12. Per the agreement, the school will “provide necessary training in areas such as social skills, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language skills, and transitional skills, such as preparing for employment and post-secondary education and independent living skills. The governing council is to have a membership of 9-15 members, including a member of LUHS administrative team, each serving a three-year term.

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