By Janie Southard
West Central Learning Academy (WCLA) in Lima will provide online schooling for students at the Mercer County Alternative School next school year.
Mercer County Educational Services Center (ESC) board approved the curriculum change at Thursday night's board meeting.
The alternative school provides two main programs: the opportunities program for students who are struggling to graduate high school or for various reasons cannot attend their regular classes, and the suspension program for those suspended from their home school.
The alternative school is located in the back portion of the Galleria in Celina.
The online program change affects the opportunities program, which in the past employed teachers to work with the at-risk students with home schools paying the ESC for each student enrolled in the program. Due to funding cuts, the ESC board has decided to offer the opportunities program as a computer online program only. WCLA will supply the online teachers, the computers for each student and the connection for a fee of $20 per day per student, which amounts to about $3,600 during the school year.
The students, who will take the online classes at the alternative school, will remain enrolled in their home schools, thus the home district keeps the local dollars portion of the state-provided $5,280 per pupil. After WCLA's share, the home school would keep about $1,680.
ESC Superintendent Eugene Linton at an earlier meeting said there will be no lunch or study halls with the new online program, which would appeal to students with their eye on the target to get the job done and get out.
The number of staff needed will be determined by enrollment, which is not known at this time. Alternative school director Matt Niekamp will remain in his position.
"We will place (any released) staff elsewhere next year as we are able. But, our goal is to provide service to the home schools and pass any savings on to them," said ESC Treasurer Mary Brandon following the Thursday meeting.
With some staff reductions expected, the ESC expects to break even financially on the new curriculum.
The alternative plan for the opportunities program has been under discussion by the ESC board since Celina district announced it would not be sending students to the program, which was a cut of $75,000 to the ESC, due to budget constraints. Linton told the board at that time the alternative program "cannot function another year" with Celina's reduction.
Board members continued their discussion of a change in facilities, possibly selling the Otis building, where the office is currently located, and leasing or purchasing the Franklin school building in Montezuma from Celina schools.
The Otis building will be appraised and that report will be studied as well as present expenditures in an effort to determine if a larger building for all ESC programs is prudent.
Vicki Smith, a Parkway resident, was approved by the board to fill the opening created by the resignation of board member Jim Shaffer. Filling his spot as vice president is Pete Hayes.
Board members approved a contract with Heyne Construction for $1,872 to repair the roof on the elevator shaft at the Otis building.
The board will meet next on May 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Otis building conference room.