The School District of Rhinelander Board of Education voted 7-2 Monday evening to dissolve its contract with the Northwoods Community Secondary School governing board at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
The move means the charter school will close in June, but the decision only affects the secondary school. The district's contract with the governing board of the Northwoods Community Elementary School will continue until it is due to be renewed in 2019.
The motion to dissolve the contract was made by board treasurer Mike Roberts and seconded by Dennis O'Brien.
District superintendent Kelli Jacobi said the school's declining enrollment, a teacher resignation and the fact that the charter contract would not be renewed in 2019 prompted the NCSS Governing Council to approve a motion April 4 to dissolve its charter contract at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
The operations and strategic planning committee approved a similar motion at its April 10 meeting.
"We are not in a position where we can replace a teacher who has resigned effective the end of the school year, and the other teachers are all looking for transfer within the district," Jacobi said.
Roberts, who chairs the operations and strategic planning committee, said that it was the change in state statutes governing charter schools that drove the decision to dissolve the contract early.
"By June 2019, when our charter school contracts have to be renewed, the changes (in statute) would basically be making the governing council a separate school board within the district. This would be the only way charter schools can operate because they have to have the power to buy and sell land and all that," Roberts said. "That doesn't work with the current model we have with the charter schools."
With the retirements and resignations within the district, he said the remaining teachers and staff of NCSS can be reassigned to other positions within the district without forcing layoffs.
"Also, it would be pretty hard to hire staff into the charter school, knowing that in 2019, this charter school will no longer exist," he said.
Jacobi said NCES will cease to be a charter school after 2019, but it will remain an elementary school.
"Unless there is a change in the statute," she said. "It doesn't mean that it is going to change the school, we don't have to close it. They used to be called magnet schools or model schools, it can remain a school in our school district. We don't have a problem with student enrollment or staffing issues."
When asked if she knew what the current enrollment was at NCES, Jacobi said she didn't have a precise figure.
"But it does stay right near our cap of 120 (students)," she said.
At that point, board president Ron Counter asked the members to confine their comments to the secondary charter school, as NCES was not on the agenda.
Board vice president Judy Conlin thanked Rhinelander High School principal David Ditzler and NCSS administrator Will Losch for "the work you have done cooperatively to make NCSS be a compliment to the offerings we have at the high school."
"When it (NCSS) started out, there was some competition in previous years, in the beginning stages, to put it mildly," she added. "So your efforts are very much appreciated in terms of making this work for our students. And now, as the transition is needed, we appreciate your cooperative spirit in working together."
Jacobi added that a transition program is being developed that would allow those NCSS students who would benefit from the advisory relationship the students and teachers had at the charter school to continue on a part-time basis as they transition into the RHS student population.
"So they can finish up projects, finish up standards, but it will be a part-time (program)," she said.
While she understands that the change in statutes will mean the charter schools will lose their charters in 2019, board member Ann Munninghoff Eshelman said she didn't feel that closing NCSS two years early was in the best interest of all of the students in that school.
"I'm very much concerned about a certain percentage of our students who are so well-served by NCSS. And while I understand that the existence of NCSS has caused certain changes in the regular schools as far as incorporating project-based learning into the regular curriculum, I still value NCSS to a certain extent that I don't even want to lose it for the two years that may be the only time we can still have it," she said.
O'Brien said he agreed with Eshelman that NCSS was started for a reason, and that was to give students who weren't succeeding in the existing school format an alternative.
"I was at the operations committee meeting and we had a family come and express their concern about their two children," O'Brien said. "During the course of their presentation, they referred to the education that was being offered to the students who didn't go to the charter school as 'cookie cutter.' Now I understand that there are people who have difficulties with the system that is put in place, and I am very sympathetic to the idea that there is a need for different approaches for different students at times. However, somehow the state decided to set these schools in competition to diminish, in my mind, the effect that that 'cookie cutter education' is."
He said that the middle and high school can still address elements of what is offered at NCSS in their curriculum and help the students who are struggling. Because of the concerns expressed, he said he would reluctantly vote "for the excellence of the cookie cutter school."
When the role call was taken on dissolving the charter contract, Merlin Van Buren voted with Eshelman against the motion.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.
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