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Minn. Sobriety High Schools Facing Possible Closures

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s among the first high schools of its kind entirely dedicated to helping students battling drug and alcohol addiction to get their diplomas and stay straight. But financial difficulties are threatening to close the doors to Sobriety High.

The motto on its Arona Academy campus door in Coon Rapids puts it bluntly, proclaiming, “one day at a time.” For teen’s battling drug or alcohol addiction, Sobriety High has been a godsend by keeping them straight and on the road to a high school diploma.

“It’s helped out quite a bit,” said student Jack Dupay. He’s been sober 92 days and counting and is a senior at the specialty charter school.

However, for Dupay and 60 other students, like Maddy Amos, the model school for kids battling addictions has a sobering challenge of its own. It has until Dec. 18 to increase enrollment and financial support.

Sobriety High has been around for more than 20 years and had been providing a supportive and safe environment for teens battling addiction. Ever since the financial downturn brought on by the 2008 recession, however, the charter school has been treading challenging finances. In addition, foundational support became scarce and the state of Minnesota changed the way schools receive educational dollars.

Now, Dupay and Amos can’t bear the thought of returning to a larger public high school where the temptations for addiction are much greater.

“I know of a lot of kids who would fall off the wagon and go back to using,” said Amos.

Paul McGlynn is the school’s executive director. He maintains that deep cuts have kept the school in the black, but there’s nothing more to cut. Salaries have been cut and staff must do more work, often driving between the two campuses.

Without foundational support, more students or a change in the state’s holdback in educational funds, the specialty school will likely close. McGlynn says he will inform the school’s board on Dec. 18 what would be in the school’s best interest.

“The real tragedy is we’re one of the few schools that offer recovery and sobriety in a safe and sober place to do that. If our doors close, I don’t know where our students will go,” added McGlynn.

Parents say it’s their child’s best hope of beating an addiction. They say larger schools can’t insulate them from drugs and alcohol.

It’s why parents like Barb Klug harbors great fear for her 14-year-old son.

“If he goes back to high school I have no doubt he will use again — it’s readily available,” said Klug.

Sobriety High parents just received letters explaining the dire picture. The business model for this charter school is broken and is further hurt by the state’s funding formula and “holdback.”

The way holdback works, the school is deprived 40 percent of its funding until completion of school year. With the nature of addiction, students drop out if they can’t remain sober, which further reduces the school’s aid reimbursement.

The school is now hoping for some corporate or foundational support. But long term they say the state’s budgeting shift or holdback needs to change, because it unfairly hurts these smaller charter schools.

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