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11/8/2012 7:30:00 AM
NCSS prepares action plan to fight closure

Marcus Nesemann

The Northwoods Community Secondary School (NCSS) Governing Council met Tuesday to work on an action plan to fight the possible closure of the charter school.

Closing the charter school is one of the options before the Board of Education to help close a $3 million budget shortfall for the 2013-'14 school year.

According to School District of Rhinelander administration, closing NCSS would save the district $398,750.

To help aid the council in creating its plan, former governing council and school board member Mike Michalak came forward to present some options.

First on Michalak's list is for the council to make sure the district and the board realize that any possible savings can easily be undone if closing the charter results in kids leaving the district.

"The district is very good at throwing a lot of figures around - cost savings and other things - but ... when they're talking about saving $398,750 by shutting down the school, they stand to lose (significantly more) and I'll tell you how," Michalak said.

"Every student in this district, per year, is worth just over $9,200. If they dissolve the charter and all these kids go on their merry way because of school choice and leave the district, we're losing, on average, $9,200 per kid," he said.

Michalak said the administration would probably say the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has regulations in place to amortize that funding loss, spreading it out over three years.

"They will immediately counter with the fact that it's spread out over three years," Michalak said. "So, we would lose that money over three years and wherever these kids go, that district will get that money over three years, but the bottom line is we would lose (a lot of money). Where's the cost savings in that?"

NCSS currently has 75 kids enrolled. If each of those students left the district, it would lose $690,000 over three years.

Second on Michalak's list of priorities is to find other funding sources for the charter. Specifically, he said, NCSS needs to take a closer look at grant opportunities.

"I don't hear a lot of grant talk coming out of this district and that's something we need to look at and maybe partner with the district on, with the unique abilities that the charter brings, to work together," Michalak said. "I mean, one grant can eclipse this ($398,750)."

NCSS administrator Jay Joppa agreed that working harder on getting grant money could really help the school.

"As popular as charter schools are, there's got to be bunches of money out there that we're not taking advantage of," Joppa said.

Michalak said the charter shouldn't just team with the district to seek out grants, however. There are many avenues out there to help with obtaining grant money, he said.

Included in that is working with the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA), which already works with the district on obtaining grant money; contacting other charter schools in the area to see how they go about getting grant dollars; contacting DPI to see what assistance it can offer; and looking into possibly getting its own grant writer if it can be worked out where the salary paid to the individual is covered by the grant money obtained.

Finally, Michalak said the charter schools must work on marketing themselves to the public to get the citizenry engaged and standing behind NCSS.

"When talking about the marketing aspect, if you really want a broad base of support, you've got to go public," Michalak said. "You have to get in front of the service organizations, you've got to get information out to area employers, you've got to get in front of the town boards, you've got to get in front of the county board, you've got to get in front of the City Council to show what the charter does for the community at large. And it's not necessarily about asking for money, but to get the public engaged and behind the charter because they are taxpayers and they are voters."

Included in that, Michalak said, is making sure that people understand what the charter is and what it does.

Too many people think that NCSS is just a place for troubled or struggling kids and Michalak said that perception needs to be corrected.

"These kids are here because they don't fit the factory mold of education," Michalak said. "It's not because they're bad kids, it's not because they're troubled kids, but it's because they want to learn in a project-based environment. We would be doing a disservice to these kids by having the charter dissolved."

Joppa concurred.

"The first day I walked into this position, we talked about marketing," Joppa said. "The charter school needs to market itself and I don't think that's really been done."

Council Chairperson Miki Walker suggested that one way for the charter to market itself better is to get past and present students to write letters about how NCSS was instrumental to their success and have them sent to board members and members of the community.

In the end, the council appointed different members to start looking into possible grant avenues and gather information to bring before the board to show it that closing NCSS would be detrimental to the district and the community as a whole.

Walker also said she was going to be contacting the Northwoods Community Elementary School Governing Council to see how they can work together.

"We should work together to try and create a united front," Walker said. "I'll be in contact with them to see if we can set up a combined meeting to see what's going on."

Marcus Nesemann may be reached at

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012
Article comment by: Zach Oelke

Until the leadership at the top of Rhinelander Schools is shown the door it won't matter which schools they close and which programs they cut. Dave Wall, assistant superintendent, needs to go as well as Martha Knudtson, principal at Pelican Elementary. Neither one knows how to lead effectively. The district as a whole does not treat its staff as professionals. At least Erdahl is leaving. Maybe, just maybe, the board will find someone who can turn this district around. Until then, I say cut and keep cutting. Maybe the community will wake up and start to see what is going on.

Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Article comment by: Brian Holmes

Mr. Joppa's salary and benefits (short-term and lifetime), I believe, constitute a sizable part of that savings. No wonder he's concerned.

Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Article comment by: Tina Crofoot

I urge all charter school parents and other interested parties to attend the Rhinelander School District Board Meeting on Tuesday, Nov 13th at 7p.m. in the Rhinelander High School Auditorium where the proposed cuts are going to be discussed. We need to make sure all of our children receive a quality education!

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