HANCOCK - The Copper Country Intermediate School District will look into the possibility of an enhancement millage that would raise enough money to keep BRIDGE Alternative High School in operation.
Board members discussed the idea at the end of a meeting Tuesday night that included emotional testimonials from BRIDGE students, parents and alumni about the impact it has had on their lives.
Nels Christopherson of Houghton-Portage Township Schools suggested the millage.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Susie Monroe, whose daughter attends BRIDGE Alternative High School, talks about the benefits of the school at the Copper Country Intermediate School District board meeting Tuesday night.
"Because it would be area-wide, it doesn't have to be a big millage," he said. "And if the right campaign was done, we've got the people who are going to sell it."
CCISD Superintendent Dennis Harbour said all 13 districts in the ISD would have to agree to place an enhancement millage on the ballot.
"You'd have to have a millage structured so Baraga-L'Anse Alternative School would get it, BRIDGE would get it and C-L-K would do it," he said.
This morning, Houghton County Clerk Mary Schoos said language for the millage can be submitted until Aug. 28. However, she said, time should also be planned as a buffer if the original language is not accepted.
"You don't wait until the last day to submit it," she said.
The issue would go on the ballots of all counties the ISD covers, Schoos said.
A CCISD millage of 1 mill would raise more than $1 million, Harbour said. A millage rate well under that would be sufficient for BRIDGE, which would have an operating shortfall of about $90,000 for the coming school year with 40 students.
Harbour said he would consult with the district's lawyers today to check the feasibility of the millage, and if the millage could be added to the November ballot.
Christopherson said he felt the millage would win the support of the boards.
"Everybody has agreed in concept that the BRIDGE School is a good thing ... nothing would change in the current budget," he said.
If such a millage were passed, board members said they should be able to find a way to keep the BRIDGE School running for the first semester.
"If all the other superintendents in the other boards are saying that they want to do something but their hands are tied because of their deficit, this would prove (that) to the ISD, to the community, and to these kids and parents ... this is the time for them to get the word out to everybody and step up to the plate to save these kids," said Trustee Lisa Tarvainen of L'Anse Area Schools.
The CCISD was the fiscal agent for BRIDGE until 2010, when the district decided it was no longer financially able to run the school. That was succeeded by a consortium of seven districts, with Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools serving as the fiscal agent. In June, Dollar Bay ended that position; board members cited some districts in the consortium not passing on the necessary funds.
The board heard from a succession of people Tuesday about the benefits of BRIDGE.
Zachary Edwards, who graduated from BRIDGE this year, started in October after coming from Illinois. Other districts had told him to get a General Equivalency Diploma; had that happened, he said, he would have stayed in Illinois and been selling drugs to provide for his family.
"BRIDGE School was my last opportunity to graduate, otherwise I would have had to get a GED," he said. "I was prepared to drop out and stay down there to provide for my family, but I chose to come up here to better myself and get out of that negative environment. My fear is some of my friends that are here right now, they're going to drop out and just say, '(Forget) school, I'm done.' I'm here to support and try to find a way to stop that from happening."
Staicee Karppinen, who graduated BRIDGE four years ago, said without BRIDGE, she would never have gone on to Northern Michigan University, where she majored in art design. Compared to public schools, she said, there is much more one-on-one instructional time and a much lesser tolerance of bullying based on differences.
"The graduates here will be closer to each other than any other graduating class," she said. "And if you take away this school, our second home, you may very well be taking away a lot of people's opportunity to better their life. So I say we fight. Fight for BRIDGE Alternative School and the amazing staff it brings."
Harbour said districts had to contend with worsening financial problems and declining enrollment for BRIDGE, bringing in less money. The school stood at 56 members in 2007, dropping to a low of 35 this year.
"I made the statement, 'We have a moral obligation to continue to run BRIDGE,'" he said. "They said, 'Mr. Harbour, we have a moral obligation to balance this deficit budget.'"
The school would need about 50 students to break even, he said, and possibly more; at that point or close to it, the school would need to add another teacher.
He encouraged the students and parents to talk to other people they know who might be interested in attending BRIDGE.
Harbour said he would meet with parents to go over the financial information and discuss ways to help.