Charter school closes after two weeks

Low enrollment sunk Mill City Hill School

ELLIOT PARK — Low enrollment forced a new downtown charter school to close less than two weeks after welcoming its inaugural class.

Mill City High School Director Malik Bush said they were projecting a first-year enrollment of more than 120 students, but only about 40 showed up for the first day of classes Sept. 15. Facing a significant reduction in per-pupil funding from the state, the school’s board of directors voted Tuesday to close.

“I think the best way to describe it is ‘depressing,’” Bush said. “Everyone had invested so much energy and time to build this wonderful vision and we just didn’t have the kids to make it work.”

Mill City High School leased an entire floor in the education wing of downtown’s First Covenant Church, located in the Elliot Park neighborhood. Renovations to the space delayed the school’s opening by two weeks, but Bush said he couldn’t be certain whether that was a factor in the low turnout.

The Rev. Dan Collison, senior pastor of First Covenant, said the church was actively seeking a new tenant. Although the renovations were intended to prepare the 12,000-square-foot space for a school, they’re open to other “community-based” uses, Collison said.

“We are grateful to have a flexible financial lender in this case who has created a model for us that had contingencies for school failure,” he said.

Collison acknowledged the loss of rental income “is a difficulty” for the church.

The Minnesota Guild sponsored Mill City High School. The non-profit charter school authorizer is affiliated with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the union that represents Minneapolis Public Schools teachers.

Bradley Blue, the Guild’s executive director, called the closing “unfortunate,” but noted there is an element of risk in all charter school startups. Schools can never be certain of their enrollment until the students arrive, Blue said.

“We applaud the (Mill City High School) board and the leadership for making hard but good decisions,” he said.

Blue said the contract with Guild-authorized schools includes a “very specific school closure plan” that calls for clear communication with families and a quick transfer of school records to the students’ new schools.

Bush said other charter schools have expressed interest in hiring members of Mill City High School’s staff. School supplies purchased with state funds will be held until they can be collected by the Minnesota Department of Education, he said.

Mill City High School planned to offer a “global classical studies” theme. The level of funding expected with only 40 students would have meant cutting back to just two classroom teachers and no administrative staff, Bush said.

He said the school’s founders were “heartbroken” by the closing, but added: “Numbers are numbers.”

“If the money is not there, it’s not there,” he said.

Click here to read previous coverage of Mill City High School.