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Funding for government lapses as short-term spending bill stalls in the Senate

Charter school leaders express concerns

From left are TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School director Dan McKeon, Schoolcraft Learning Community board member and parent Brodie Karger, Voyageurs Expeditionary High School director Julie Johnson-Willborg, Rep. John Persell, DFL Bemidji, and SLC director Scott Anderson. A meeting on charter schools and legislative issues was held on Tuesday evening at the SLC. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

Local charter school directors met with Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, on Tuesday evening with the intention of bringing to light the status of charter schools in Bemidji.

Schoolcraft Learning Community Director Scott Anderson clarified a few of what he considered common misconceptions about charter schools.

"Charter schools do actually create revenue for Bemidji School District," Anderson said.

According to Anderson, special education rates are equal to or higher than district, along with free and reduced rates.

Anderson also noted that charter schools create revenue for district from funds generated by charter school students from the local levy referendum passed last year that go to the district.

Students in sports

The main issue of the night - charter school students in Bemidji are not allowed to participate in the district's extracurricular activities.

TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School Director Dan McKeon and Anderson both said they have tried asking the Bemidji School Board to allow charter schools students to participate in sports in the past, but without success.

McKeon stated he believes the district views allowing charter schools to participate in its sports would give them a competitive advantage over student enrollment.

"This is a bit antiquated," McKeon said. "TrekNorth is not looking to add kids. The bulk of our identity is keeping a small school. I don't think they stand to lose kids if they opened their doors."

Adding to his first point, McKeon also stated he was told by the district that students who attend school together should be allowed to play together with no "extra" students from other districts on the team.

"I don't think the division between schools is something kids see as cross-town rivalries," McKeon said. "The reasons that did exist for not allowing participation are gone. The kids are the ones who pay for it."

Asking for help

Persell listened as Anderson presented the following list of issues:

- Transportation; Anderson stated the amount of money charter schools pay to the district for transportation fees on a per-pupil basis exceeds money expended for transportation by the district.

- Adequate funding for K-12 education.

- Funding for all-day, everyday kindergarten.

- Revising or repealing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

- Supporting the participation of charter school students in extracurricular activities in their district of residence.

"We want to ask our legislators to take a peek at these issues," Anderson said. "Some we have faced since day one here in Bemidji."

"I think the points that you're bringing out are well-founded," Persell said. "What troubles me is that we don't provide the education that I believe in and know is being provided by charter schools within the public system."

Persell pledged at the meeting that charter schools could count on him for support.

"We are going the wrong way in the public education. Part of the problems that we're having is the lack of funding overall," Persell said.

"There are some friction points," Anderson said. "We believe the school district is a wonderful district. There are things we haven't worked out, but we know we are able to look past to what's best for our kids."