The future of Maple Grove Charter School in question

MERRILL, Wis. (WSAW) -- Declining enrollment is forcing Merrill Area Public Schools to consider some changes, which may include shutting down the Maple Grove Charter School in Hamburg.

Maple Grove Charter School 11-6-19 (WSAW photo)

The Finance/Human Resources Committee began preliminary discussions at their Wednesday night meeting in Merrill. M.A.P.S. Superintendent Dr. John Sample cited declining enrollment and fiscal responsibility as reasons for looking at closing the school.

”It can be a difficult decision, but the difficulty can come in being fiscally responsible to our community members,” said Sample. “Every single year we’re losing approximately 50 students.”

Many people attended Wednesday night’s meeting in support of the school, which is in its 115th year of educating students. Trina Lutzke has three kids, two of whom attend Maple Grove. She says the thought of it closing makes her emotional.

“It’s enough to make me cry when I sit there and think about it,” said Lutzke. “I have to tell my current fourth grader that’s trying to finish things out there, like ‘oh my goodness, what if your school closes.’ She knows this is a battle that gets brought up almost every year.”

A battle that may be nearing its end. Sample says the district’s successful referendum last year helped save time, but if enrollment continues to decrease, things will need to change. He even mentioned the possibility of having to combine the middle and high schools to help cut costs and utilize available space.

If Maple Grove were to close, Sample says the students would be sent to the three other elementary schools within the district, and that the staff at the school of 82 would be relocated as well.

“If we brought all of those students back in, they still require instructors,” said Sample. “Just through attrition, with resignations and retirements, we’re not going to say ‘Your building closed so you no longer have a job.’ Same is true of the administrator, same is true of all the personnel out there.”

The committee voted to bring the issue to the school board at their November meeting, with a decision on the future of Maple Grove expected within the next few months.

Should the decision be made to close the school, Lutzke says a plan is already in place to keep it open as an independent charter school.

“Maple Grove has a foundation that they have already started,” said Lutzke. “A separate foundation where they’re looking at approaching donors and finding people that believe in a project like Maple Grove to be able to fund and keep that as an option.”

An idea that Sample says is a possibility.

“Certainly, that is a possibility,” said Sample. “We would of course, sell the building. We can’t see re-purposing the building because I think the approximation we came up with right now would be $480,000 that would be reallocated to our students and the remainder of the district.”

What’s important to Sample, is transparency throughout the entire process.

“That’s why I made it a point to say we need to have question and answer, we need to be transparent,” added Sample. “We want people to understand. Now, whether they agree or not is one thing, but we want them to have the facts.”