The Eau Claire school board on Monday will decide whether to take up a proposal to launch a virtual charter school next academic year.
The proposal was initially brought before the board in February with hopes the charter could serve as an additional alternative education opportunity for current students while also attracting new students from the Chippewa Valley or elsewhere across the state.
School Board President Joe Luginbill said the district loses students to other virtual schools every year, and he hopes the program, if approved, could allow them to “keep those students part of the ECASD family.”
“I think it’s a really positive endeavor and it’s a really worthwhile proposal to look at because it allows us to expand our reach and who we are able to serve as a district,” Luginbill said. “It’s an additional strategy and an additional tool that we can use to best meet the needs of our learners.”
The virtual charter school contract that the board will see Monday comes with some changes based on feedback from the board, according to meeting materials. The contract was slated to be voted on at the board’s last meeting April 1, but the vote was delayed because of some lingering questions and suggestions from board members.
The proposal is to start the virtual school as a pilot program for the 2019-20 school year with a maximum of 28 students in grades six through 12. The program, under the proposed contract, would expand to serve kindergarten through 12th grades.
As recommended at the April 1 meeting, the district would start the program with a contracted virtual education provider already equipped with Wisconsin-licensed teachers who would provide virtual instruction.
Then, letting community feedback and student enrollment shape the hiring of any necessary personnel.
If the program attracts enough out-of-district students, the school could generate additional revenue for the district. Projections included in the original February proposal show that the district could make as much as $108,485 in the case that the school was comprised of 60 percent new enrollees, 30 percent open enrollees and 10 percent current district students.
However, in the case of fewer new and open enrollees, the school could cost the district. It isn’t yet clear how piloting the program in the first year would impact the budget.
Luginbill said he’s excited to resume discussions of the school.
“If done properly, virtual education can provide an additional pathway for students and it provides an additional option for families,” he said.
North side elementary boundaries
The school board will hear recommendations from the Demographic Trends and Facilities Committee to alter all north side elementary school boundaries for the 2020-21 school year.
The recommendation, if ultimately approved by the board, would also keep Roosevelt Elementary School open.
In October, the committee recommended the school be shuttered and re-purposed into a center for 4-year-old kindergarten due to a district need for additional space for that programming. It also would’ve allowed the district to redistribute students across all the other north side elementary schools — including Sam Davey, Northwoods, Lakeshore, Longfellow, Locust Lane and Sherman — that all had space.
But after the school board approved a new Spanish dual immersion program at Longfellow for the 2019-20 school year, the committee’s original recommendation became no longer feasible in terms of space.
The recommendation the committee ultimately came to was to alter all north side elementary boundaries for the 2020-21 school year. Under that recommendation — a previously drawn map that was slightly altered at the meeting — all schools’ capacities are projected to hover around 69 and 79 percent.
The plan, if approved, is slated to cost the district $31.5 million to $35.5 million and would require another plan to address space issues for 4-year-old kindergarten and a lack of space at elementary schools on the south side.
The board will not vote on the matter at the Monday meeting. Luginbill said he anticipates they will vote on the recommendation at the following meeting on May 6.
On Monday, the board will also receive recommendations to reclassify the Demographic Trends and Facilities Committee as a “committee of the board” and, as such, assign two board members to it.
The committee was previously considered “a committee of the board” and board members Charles Vue and Lori Bica were assigned to it. But after the April 2018 election, the committee was reclassified to an “other committee,” and no board members have regularly attended meetings since.
“I think it’s well worth their time to be at these meetings,” committee member Anne Hartman said at the March meeting.