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Board delays action on relocating virtual, charter schools
The Monroe School Board Monday delayed a decision to relocate the charter and virtual schools to Monroe High School for next year. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - Students at the Monroe Alternative Charter School and virtual school will have to wait two more weeks to see where they are going to school next year.

The Monroe School Board Monday delayed a decision to relocate the charter and virtual schools to Monroe High School for next year. The charter school was designed to serve at-risk students in the district and provides face-to-face instruction; the virtual school provides an online education to students throughout the state.

School board member Les Bieneman supported the proposal to move virtual school staff to the high school, but he opposed moving charter school students.

"These students are not at the high school because they weren't successful in the high school setting," Bieneman said. "It's not because of the academics. A lot of them don't do well in large groups. Intelligence is not the issue. This is a personality issue. I think we need to keep this school open."

The board is expected to vote on the relocation at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 11.

Joe Monroe, the Monroe School District's director of pupil services, along with Monroe High School Principal Rick Waski presented the proposal to relocate the charter and virtual schools to the high school to the board. The proposal is the recommendation of district administration with input from a nine-member Charter/Virtual Transition Advisory Committee.

Monroe said one of the factors is the reduction of Monroe Middle School Assistant Principal Melissa Wiegel, who has been overseeing the charter school. District leaders agreed to cut Wiegel's position after voters rejected a four-year, $8 million non-recurring referendum in 2011.

The district is operating with a $1 million deficit this year and Monroe said the district could save $140,000 by cutting two charter school teachers - and more if the district decides to sell the building downtown. The building currently houses the charter school and virtual school.

Under the proposal, the charter school would be incorporated into the high school as a school-within a school model. Two charter school teachers would serve as lead teachers to coordinate the program. Monroe said the virtual school staff would be housed out of the high school under the proposal, but the virtual school would remain a separate entity.

Monroe sees educational benefits for relocating the charter school. Charter school students would be allowed to take courses at the high school like vocational classes in fields they are interested if they choose. High school students would be allowed to take virtual school courses online. High school teachers also would be called on to support charter school students.

"We believe this will result in improved programming for students," Monroe said. "We are not just talking about the charter school students. We are talking about the high school students too."

If the board approves the relocation, Monroe said about $15,000 in remodeling will be required. Waski said space isn't an issue.

There are three classrooms in the northeast corner of the high school that charter school teachers and students could use. Waski said the math lab may have to be relocated, but there was enough room for two teachers and about 30 students.

Waski said a large study hall room that is only being used for one period this year could house virtual school staff.

Monroe said the district is not making any cuts to the five virtual school teachers on staff that service about 200 students taking courses online.

"By moving the virtual school, the number of students taking virtual school classes will only increase," Waski said.

The district is also focusing on offering more options for charter school students in vocational programs at the high school.

"The one thing we haven't probably done with our charter school program is to focus on post-graduation goals and employability," Waski said.

Charter school students are only required to earn 22 credits for graduation now. The district proposes a two-year phase in plan if the plan is approved.

Charter school students in the next two years would only need 22 credits for graduation, but after that then would be required to earn 25 credits just like high school students.

"We have high expectations for our students," Waski said. "We need to have high expectations for charter school students too."

To ease the transition, district leaders are considering still having charter school students start school late, offering them a laptop similar to the one-to-one iPad deployment at Monroe Middle School and offering to start a business led by charter school students similar to the catering class offered at the high school now that makes breakfast sandwiches.

Board member Brian Keith said the one big key in any plan is to ensure that students feel connected to the school.