A charter school serving students who are trying to get clean from alcohol and other drugs was spared from the chopping block for now as the Waukesha School Board wanted specifics about a program that would replace the school.
About a dozen people pleaded with the Waukesha School Board on Wednesday to keep the charter school status for Project Change and Recovery School, a charter school that serves students fighting alcohol and drug addictions.
Three parents spoke during the meeting, sharing stories about how their children had low grades, drug addictions and thoughts of suicide. One woman shared how her son went from a 1.5 grade point average to a 3.0 grade point average before enrolling at the charter school. Her son had struggled with thoughts of suicide every day, but that’s gone now.
“This is life and death for these kids,” the woman said. Waukesha Patch isn’t identifying the parents due to the sensitive nature of their comments.
“It is very important not to let the kids fall through the cracks,” said Scott Halverson, who told the board he’s an alcohol and other drugs counselor.
The board was being asked to close the school at the end of the semester this month and allow for the charter school to operate more like a program. The Waukesha School Board didn’t vote to pull the charter school status and asked school officials to return with more information about programs that would help Waukesha students.
“We have a need for it. We are going to continue to have a need for it,” said School Board Member Barb Brzenk. “It is a reality in our community and in communities everywhere across the country.”
Brzenk brought concerns forward about unknowns, including where the students would be served. Right now they meet at St. Matthias Episcopal Church in downtown Waukesha. Brzenk was concerned about integrating students back into regular high schools where they would be around the influences of their peers using drugs and alcohol.
Current enrollment at the school includes four students with only one of them being a Waukesha School District resident. The other three students attend from other school districts. Next semester, only two non-school district students plan to continue at the school, according to school district documents
By reallocating the school’s teacher to work with the high schools, the school district plans to keep a program going. The estimated annual savings would be $5,000 in rent and $5,000 in supplies and equipment. The cost to run the school is about $120,000, according to Superintendent Todd Gray.
“We were looking for a way to make sure this is going to continue,” Gray said about making the move to a program instead of a charter school. The school district will need to spend money to upgrade the school to keep the charter status from the state. The charter expires in June without an extension from the state.
“It has been running more like a program, which was OK three or four years ago. but in the last couple of years, they have added a couple of strings to call yourself a charter school,” Gray said.
A Regional Approach
The Waukesha School Board was provided with a copy of a letter from the Cooperative Educational Service Agency No. 1, which helps serve area school districts. The letter shows that CESA is willing to work with the Waukesha School District to convert the charter school to a program:
As you know, CESA No. 1 provides a number of alternative services for K-12 student in southeastern Wisconsin. As a part of those alternative services, we currently provide school programs for underserved students in proficiency-based learning and credit attainment, along with expelled students and those with emotional behavioral disabilities. These regional programs have successfully served our districts for over 10 years because of our commitment to provide high quality educational options in an efficient manner. Therefore, as a part of our commitment to these students and to the School District of Waukesha, I look forward to an opportunity for Dr. (Barb) Van Haren, (director of special education, CEAS No. 1), to meet with Ms. (Jennifer) Wimmers, (Waukesha School District’s executive director of special education), to further discuss ways in which CESA No. 1 might be able to assist in the transition of this program to a CESA No. 1 regional program.
“We are more likely to pick up students from other districts,” Gray said about a regional approach.
But until things progress beyond a letter of interest from CESA, Brzenk and other board members weren’t prepared to make the switch.
“We have nothing really in black and white saying exactly what it will look like,” Brzenk said.
Meanwhile, School Board Member Steve Edlund expressed his frustrations with Waukesha being the county seat, feeling that social issues are placed on the city and the school district.
“I’m frustrated that we are having to spend a tremendous amount of revenue without the home school districts facing the facts,” said Edlund, who also mentioned he hadn’t made up his mind on how he planned to vote. “We’ve become the dumping ground, OK. We will deal with the issues. But there is a problem in Waukesha County, period.
“… We are going to take resources away from our classrooms and our students to deal with your community’s responsibilities to society. If these were two children that were in our community, I might have a little different opinion.”
Edlund had a message for those living outside the school district that wanted to participate in the Waukesha School District’s programs and charters.
“Move into our community. Become part of our community. Pay our property taxes,” Edlund said. “This is our school district. We are proud of it. I’m sorry that other school districts aren’t proud of the people in their community too.”