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Charter school move approved
The Monroe School Board voted 7-2 to relocate the 15-year-old charter school that serves 36 at-risk students in a building across from Monroe Middle School.(Times file photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - Despite a petition with 117 signatures to keep the Monroe Alternative Charter School in its existing location, the Monroe School Board approved a plan Monday to relocate the charter and virtual schools to Monroe High School next year.

The board voted 7-2 to relocate the 15-year-old charter school that serves 36 at-risk students in a building across from Monroe Middle School. Staff for the virtual school, which provides an online education to students throughout the state, also work out of that location.

"We believe that relocating the virtual and charter schools to the high school is in the best interest of the students and financially for the district," Monroe School District Superintendent Cory Hirsbrunner said. "It will provide more options for students."

As part of the relocation plan, two charter school teachers will be issued preliminary non-renewal layoff notices as the district expects to save about $140,000.

The board hasn't decided if it will sell the charter school building. The building was once used as school district offices.

Board member Les Bieneman, who voted against the plan along with Michael Boehme, was concerned about closing the charter school and moving at-risk students into a high school setting where many have struggled in the past.

"I feel in general this is not in the best interest of the charter school students," Bieneman said. "Those students who want to go back to the high school, we can have them go back. I think these students are better served in a separate building where they are."

The proposal to relocate the charter school and virtual school to the high school came as the recommendation of district administration with input from a nine-member Charter/Virtual Transition Advisory Committee.

Hirsbrunner said there are several reasons for the relocation:

n Improved programming for students. Relocation will increase learning options for charter school and high school students. Charter school students will be allowed to take high school courses and high school students will be allowed to take virtual school courses.

n A lack of administrative oversight for the charter school. The district is eliminating Monroe Middle School Assistant Principal Melissa Wiegel's position after this school year. Wiegel currently oversees the charter school program. The district agreed to cut the position after voters rejected a four-year, $8 million non-recurring referendum in 2011.

n School report cards from the state Department of Public Instruction. The district doesn't have School Report Cards for the charter school, but they will be out next year. However, Hirsbrunner said, when the district looked at charter school data, the scores did not meet expectations.

The charter school graduation rate is about 52 percent, said Joe Monroe, director of pupil services.

"In my estimation, we need to make some changes, whether we do it on our own or whether the state forces us to do it," Monroe said. "According to the accountability rating, we know we won't fare well."

Board member Larry Eakins, who was on the board when the charter school was approved, favored the relocation because of changing state standards.

"It (the charter school) used to be the place for kids to go with less expectations," Eakins said. "At the time we implemented the charter school, it was a natural progression. Now we are looking at educating kids and making adequately yearly progress. I think it's a natural progression."

n Budget implications. Monroe said the district could save $140,000 by relocating the charter school and virtual school staff to the high school stemming from cutting two teachers and reduced utility and custodial costs.

Two charter school lead teachers will be used along with high school teachers to staff the charter school area at the high school.

Monroe said there is more academic support at the high school now for charter school students, including classes that are team-taught and structured study halls where teachers can work with two or three students.

"I think we can take some of the things that have made the charter school successful and add some more options and turn them into the high school. We have been trying to offer a high school experience in an alternative building with only so many staff and resources."

The relocation of the charter and virtual schools will require $15,000 in remodeling to the high school. The charter school program will use three existing classrooms and an office at the high school. The virtual school teachers will use one large study hall room at the high school.

There are no reductions being made to virtual school staff. The virtual school will continue to have five teachers and two support staff will still be assigned to the charter and virtual school.

Current charter and virtual school students would be grandfathered in and would have to earn 22 credits for graduation. After that, charter school and virtual school students would be required to earn 25 credits for graduation.