An additional five students will be allowed to enroll in the Lakeland Star Academy, a charter school for high school-age autism students, which opens this fall on the Lakeland Union High School campus in Minocqua.
A member of the body that oversees the charter schools said his group is fundraising and will help shoulder any extra cost associated with those five other students.
Governance council member Gregg Walker said they are getting excellent response from community members and businesses for donations to support the two schools designed primary for those on the autism spectrum.
“We are going to work hard to raise funds to offset the costs,” Walker told the Lakeland school board Wednesday. “Our (fundraising) goal is one million (dollars) by the end of the year. We’re rapidly approaching this.”
The district’s contract with the charters’ governance council had specified a maximum of 10 students for Star Academy, which serves students in 9th to 12th grades.
Walker said the primary reason for the request was to avoid a lottery to determine this year’s enrollees. The lottery would have had a “devastating” effect on families not selected, it was noted.
A companion charter, Lakeland Star School will serve students in 7th and 8th grades. The Star School has seven prospective students, one short of the maximum. Both charter schools will be housed in the former Nicolet College outreach building a short distance from the high school.
Depending on the level of services required for each student, the 15 students could require “at least one more paraprofessional and maybe a teacher if we want to maintain that (low teacher-students) ratio,” Kopp said.
The charter schools’ lead teacher Erik Mikoleit said they should have an adequate number of qualified staff to run the two charter schools. “We are confident that at 22 (students) we will be able to meet those needs.”
Some concerns about financial impact
The unanimous approval didn’t come without some soul searching by board members, primarily over concerns about the additional staff needed.
“We are being asked to vote on something, but we are unsure what the bottom line is going to be for LUHS,” board member Barb Peck said. “It’s a little uncomfortable, especially when we know that we have so many needs here at LUHS in he building.”
“I don’t think anybody disagrees with the fact of the need,” said new board member Pam Carroll, who also wanted an updated budget forecast.
Principal/district administrator Jim Bouche and Kopp both reminded the board that if the extra five students were not enrolled in Star Academy, they would be LUHS regular enrollees. As such, they would require much of the same education programs and staffing. All of the students coming into the two charter schools are Lakeland residents.
The assurances of donations to the program went a long ways to allay the concerns.
After getting assurances of financial support from outside sources, Carroll said, “That’s not a problem as long as it’s not going to cost us additional amount of money here.” She also extended “kudos to everyone” for the work done on the charter schools.
Mikoleit said later that he expects it will take about two weeks to complete the individual education plans (IEPs) for the incoming students. Once that’s done, they will have a better idea of the additional paraprofessionals and teacher they will need. Kopp said it wouldn’t take him long then to prepare an updated budget for the school board.