Wichita’s Metro-Meridian Alternative High School could close

Metro-Meridian Alternative High School, at Maple and Meridian, may close as part of budget cuts. (May 5, 2016)
Metro-Meridian Alternative High School, at Maple and Meridian, may close as part of budget cuts. (May 5, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

One of Wichita’s last remaining alternative high schools could close next year and staff members be reassigned elsewhere if board members approve a budget-cutting option being presented Monday.

District officials are exploring the idea of consolidating the district’s alternative high schools at the Chester I. Lewis Academic Learning Academy, 1847 N. Chautauqua, where Metro-Boulevard Alternative High School, eSchool and other programs currently are located.

That could mean closing Metro-Meridian Alternative High School, at Maple and Meridian, which serves about 160 students.

“We’re trying to figure out how to reorganize all of that so we can do a better job of providing the service at a lower cost,” said Jim Freeman, chief financial officer for Wichita schools.

“Basically with fewer staff – that’s what it’s going to come down to.”

Consolidating the district’s two alternative high schools was included on an expansive list of potential budget cuts Freeman presented to board members in March. Additional options include moving the Gateway program and outsourcing educational services at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Facility.

On Monday, Freeman will provide “just a little bit more detail on the options that we’re looking at,” he said, including how many positions could be eliminated.

Teachers or others who lose their positions as part of a consolidation would be reassigned elsewhere in the district, Freeman said.

“Whatever staff is displaced we’re going to place in an opening,” he said. “We haven’t been hiring anybody for about four months now, so we have about 140 vacant teacher positions.”

According to projections, estimated cost increases for Wichita schools will be nearly $23 million next year, but revenue is expected to be flat under the state’s new block grant funding system. School board members last month tentatively approved first-round cuts that would reduce the shortfall to about $12 million.

Freeman wouldn’t comment on what the district would do with the Metro-Meridian building if the school closes.

“That’s … some of the detail that we’re not quite ready for yet,” he said.

Meanwhile, supporters of Metro-Meridian have launched a Facebook page – “Save Metro Meridian: The Little School with the BIG Heart” – and some plan to address board members about their concerns Monday.

Alternative high schools are designed for students who have not been successful in a traditional school setting. The environment is generally smaller and more flexible than a traditional high school, and includes more one-on-one instruction. The schools also support students who need longer than four years to finish high school or those who want to finish in less time.

Metro-Boulevard, once located in the old Willard Elementary School near Lincoln and Grove, moved to Chester I. Lewis – the former Northeast Magnet High School – as part of boundary changes, budget cuts and school closings in 2012.

Metro-Midtown, once at 640 N. Emporia, closed in 2010 as a cost-cutting measure and now houses the Gateway program, which serves middle and high school students who have been suspended or expelled from their assigned school.

Blackbear Bosin Academy, a former alternative middle school at 6123 E. 11th St., closed in 2011 as part of budget cuts.

A teacher at Metro-Meridian, who asked not to be identified because she feels her job may be in danger, said she is frustrated by the district’s continual downsizing of alternative programs.

Because students at alternative high schools have to provide their own transportation, the teacher fears that many Metro-Meridian students wouldn’t make the trip across town to continue their schooling.

“They could go back to their comprehensive high school or drop out, and we’ve had a lot of kids saying they’d just as soon do that,” she said. “That’s what worries us.”

Freeman said alternative programs are a reasonable area to look for cuts because services can be costly and changes affect fewer students. About 300 students attend Wichita’s two alternative high schools.

“We’re only impacting a few hundred students, where if perhaps we eliminated C-team athletics, we’re impacting 650 students,” he said. “We’re looking at and trying to decide where the least consequences are for students where we could gain the most in terms of savings.”

The Metro-Meridian teacher said she hopes district officials don’t write off her students’ concerns because they don’t have the numbers of some other programs.

“It’s like we have the smallest voice, so we’re not heard,” she said.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias