Alternative school gets green light

From left, Clinton School Board members Jenny Green and Eric Gettes and Superintendent Gary DeLacy prepare for a school board meeting Monday. The board approved an agreement with Gateway Area Community Center for the new Gateway Academy alternative high school.Winona Whitaker/Clinton Herald

CLINTON — The Clinton Community School District approved a contract with Gateway Area Community Center Monday, making the opening of the district's alternative high school this fall a reality.

The offsite alternative school, called Gateway Academy, will serve about 50 students in grades 9-12 from Clinton and Camanche school districts, Superintendent Gary DeLacy said during Monday's board meeting.

The $30,000 the district will pay the Gateway community center gives the district the use of six rooms plus a couple of rooms for confidential meetings, and will pay for internet and utilities.

The Gateway Area Community Center is the former Henry Sabin Elementary School at 1850 S. Bluff Blvd. The district discontinued use of the school after the 1999 school year, moving students to Bluff and Whittier elementary schools, and voted to sell the building to Jorge Landa Rodriguez in December 2017.

The fact that the school district is putting its alternative high school at the former school building isn't a sign that the district should have kept the building, DeLacy said.

"There's no way $30,000 would get you what it's getting us," he said.

Owning the building, maintaining it and paying utilities would have cost the district three times that, DeLacy said.

Rodriguez turned the building into a community center and provides space for organizations such as Del Sol Boxing Club, Ebony Illusion dance studio and a food pantry. Renting space to organizations helps the Center pay building costs and makes use of the many empty rooms there.

"The only thing we ask is for them to cover their own overhead," Rodriguez said. That amounts to about 49 cents per square foot.

The school district's price is a little less than that, Rodriguez said.

"Honestly, we even went under that for them just to make sure the program came to light," Rodriguez said. "We came in under their budget so they didn't have any second thoughts.

"I'm very excited and very, very pleased that they decided to call it Gateway Academy," Rodriguez said. The name takes away the stigma surrounding an alternative school, giving the students a sense of pride that they are attending an academy, he said.

The Camanche School District will have a stake in the school through a 28E agreement with the Clinton district, Camanche Superintendent Tom Parker said Thursday.

"Contractually, we're going to take on the cost of the equivalent of 10 students. The actual enrollment itself will fluctuate," he said.

The alternative school will allow the Camanche School District to meet the needs of students who, for whatever reason, have trouble learning in a traditional school environment, Parker said. How that works, specifically, he's not sure.

"The program is new enough that it is a work in progress," Parker said.

The school will be a different setting, a smaller space and will not require that students attend seven class periods a day on a specific schedule.

"Programming can be set up that's a little more specific [to each student]," Parker said, and the districts can offer more support for the students.

"Some of these students are in school right now but for various reasons... are struggling," Parker said, adding he would like to think the district could reach out to students who have dropped out and encourage them to "give it another try."

The first year will be a trial run, Parker said. Specifics can be changed as needs are evaluated.

Regardless of what the school day looks like, students at Gateway Academy will have to meet the graduation requirements of their respective schools in order to graduate from the alternative facility, Parker said.

The $30,000 paid to Gateway is only part of the total cost of the school. The total budget for a year for the alternative school is $478,300, said DeLacy, but that's not additional money the district has to find. Most of it is in the high school budget already.

All four teachers for Gateway Academy are currently working at Clinton High School. A counselor and para-educator currently on the payroll will move to Gateway in the fall, DeLacy said. The district will move a para-educator to Gateway as well.

Those positions amount to about $285,700 that the district is spending already.

Because Clinton and Camanche are sharing the enterprise, the state will pay $40,000 in operational sharing toward the counselor's salary and another $40,000 for the social worker.

The district will need an additional para-educator, a secretary and a social worker for Gateway Academy. Those positions and the cost of adding two administrative stipends, rent, technology, supplies and cleaning service, make the actual new expenses to the district about $152,600 after operational sharing, DeLacy said.

Camanche will pay about 20% of the total cost, about $95,660, DeLacy said.

A native of Centerville, Winona comes to the Clinton Herald after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.