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Russell Hughes, Ashland

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Ashland elementary charter school to close
Board says school district doesn't support it




Students at the Lake Superior Learning Community charter school will be moved back into regular elementary schools after the 2019-20 school year after leaders voted to shut down the charter.

The program had four years left to run on its contract with the Ashland School District, but the Ashland Charter Council voted last week to end the program when contracts for middle school and high school charter schools end.

"As a council we don't believe it's feasible or wise to carry on with the current LSLC contract four additional years with a model the district is clearly demonstrating they do not want to support," said a letter from the committee sent to parents.

Charter School Committee President Wendy Kloiber said that when the charter schools were first set up in the Ashland district the goal was to have a pathway for students to enter the system beginning in the third grade and running through to high school graduation.

"The goal was not to create one school, it was to open an entire different instructional track," she said.

With the Ashland School Board's recent vote to eliminate the middle school

Oredocker Project School and Lake Superior High School, that was no longer possible.

"Once that pathway ended, there really didn't seem to be any reason for us to continue that contract with the elementary school," Kloiber said.

Ending the remnant charter program will allow the school district to develop a replacement program, which the district said would incorpo rate many of the educational features used in the charter school.

Kloiber also cited two decisions made by the district that would have made continued operation of the charter school difficult: a reduction in staffing, assigning three teachers to the elementary charter school instead of the four that enrollment would have supported; and not allocating adequate planning time for teachers to rework curriculum to take account of the staff reduction.

Charter Council member Amy Syverson said the decision in June not to renew contracts with the middle and high school charter schools set into motion a series of events that culminated with the decision to cut the elementary contract short. One consequence has been that administrators from other schools have looked at the results obtained by the Ashland charter schools.

"They have reached out to our teachers and said 'Hey what you have been doing is really amazing, and if Ashland is not interested in what you are doing, we are, come and talk to us,'" she said. "A lot of our teachers are receiving really tempting offers."

School Board President Jessica Pergolski said she was "a little bit surprised' by the action.

"At the same time it kind of confirms some feelings and concerns that we have had about where this was going in the future," she said. "Obviously we have had discussions with the charter council for many years over sustainability and continuing this program. In my perspective it doesn't change our commitment to creating project-based learning opportunities in our school district, so whether it is next year or four years from now, we are still committed to creating those opportunities.

Pergolski said she hoped to work closely with the charter council to develop programs within the district structure.

She also said the School Board appreciated the Charter Council's work.

"They have been very dedicated volunteers; they have put in a lot of time and energy into this," she said. "I want to be very respectful for the work that has occurred. They created something that has impacted with a lot of students and we want to grow from there."

Rainbows leave little trouble in their wake
Nearly 6,000 who camped were mostly peaceful, law-abiding

Although a few Rainbows remain behind to rehabilitate the forest after the Fourth of July Rainbow Family Gathering drew nearly 6,000 people, Bayfield County police and businesses have started to tally up the costs — and benefits — of their stay in the Northwoods.

Some Rainbows, as members of the non-organized group of people who gather annually together to celebrate peace and love are known, began to arrive in mid-June to set up camps and kitchens in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

While the "seed camp" readied for the Rainbow Family Gathering held the week of the Fourth of July holiday, the local community, police and businesses prepared for an influx of thousands of people.

Some residents and police alike were concerned that the group would bring a rash of crime, medical problems and other costs to the Northwoods with little or no benefit.

An Ashland Daily Press review of police records and interviews with local business owners found few, if any of those concerns was borne out.

Law enforcement

Bayfield County Sheriff Paul Susienka took a hand in keeping the peace at the local level, hosting a June 25 town meeting for local

residents concerned about the Rainbows and deploying extra patrols in the rural areas surrounding the gathering south of Iron River.

Although the county added patrols, the cost probably won't tap into the sheriff's office budget, Susienka said.

The county maintains a cooperative law enforcement agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, which gives $3,000 to the sheriff's office annually to check on national forest campgrounds.

When the Rainbows announced their gathering, the Forest Service hiked the reimbursement to about $30,000, Susienka said. The county is now tallying the cost of the extra patrols, but the sheriff didn't anticipate it will exceed $30,000.

Susienka said the county saw little increase in reported crimes during the Rainbows' stay, and most arrests were for traffic violations.

No more than about a dozen Rainbows ended up in the county jail over the duration of the gathering, jail administrator Capt. Kathleen Haiden said, and the majority of them were simply held overnight until they sobered up or got a ride back to the gathering.

The 80-bed jail currently holds about 55 inmates and came nowhere near capacity during the event, Haiden said. When the Rainbows were released, the jail transported them back to the forest in the jail's van.

From her perspective leading the jail, the warnings about the Rainbows were "kind of much ado about nothing," Haiden did not have to add extra staff to the jail roster at any time.

Meanwhile, next door in Ashland, police Chief Jim Gregoire said his officers mostly encountered Rainbows before and after the gathering for panhandling, which was not so much a nuisance as a disruption to some businesses.

Considering the number of people who came into the area for the gathering, Gregoire, who issued a warning before the event to local businesses to beware of shoplifters and other crimes, thinks the Rainbows had little impact in Ashland.

U.S. Forest Service

While area police kept their pulse on the Rainbows' impact on the local level, officers with the Forest Service's National Incident Management Team arrived to patrol the gathering, settling into hotels around the area.

The cost to the federal government to send the team for this particular gathering is unknown, said Hilary Markin, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service.

On average, however, a national Rainbow Family Gathering typically costs about $700,000 for both forest service and law enforcement efforts, she said.

County and federal courts

Citations and criminal arrests went either through Bayfield County or the U.S. Attorney's Office, which set up an extension of the Federal Court in Washburn.

Federal Magistrate Stephen Crocker appeared via video teleconference on June 24 and July 3, with prosecuting attorneys present in the courtroom at the Bayfield County Courthouse.

According to Bayfield County Clerk of Courts Kay Cederberg, the U.S. Attorneys Office processed 21 citations on June 24 and 86 on July 3. The Rainbows were respectful, and most appeared and paid their fines, Cederberg said.

Myra Longfield, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Madison, said citations mostly were for misdemeanor offenses such as underage drinking or driving without a license, and most were settled.

Criminal offenses — many of which were drugrelated — were referred to the Bayfield County District Attorney's Office for prosecution.

Economic impact

It's too early to tell how big a bang and how many bucks the Rainbows provided the local economy, and a few businesses tallied wins and losses from the event.

The Rainbows held a get-to-know-you event for locals at Uncle Bob's Bowling Center on June 22 in Iron River, which drew a decent crowd, manager Jared Botten said.

The restaurant saw more business thanks to the Rainbows' stay, but a dip at the bar, which Botten credited to the proliferation of police just about everywhere around the gathering.

Charles Dunbar, manager at the Cenex in Iron River, said for the most part the Rainbows were polite and courteous, with only about two out of 10 causing problems, such as diving in the dumpster or being confrontational.

The store did have to call police officers several times, and some Rainbows shoplifted items such as toilet paper out of the bathrooms. These types of incidents were in the minority as far as interactions went with the Rainbows, Dunbar said.

But local residents expressed some discomfort when the Rainbows loitered in groups near the Cenex, Dunbar said. In the end, however, the Rainbow Family Gathering didn't hurt or bring in business.

At the Delta Diner, managing member Todd Bucher said the rural restaurant on Highway H experienced nothing negative.

Forest Service and county officers did an excellent job patrolling the gathering and he saw little impact on customers.

A few Rainbows patronized the diner, but mostly they stayed in the forest. The neighborhood didn't really register how many Rainbows set up camp nearby on Canthook Lake Road considering the thousands who attended the gathering, Bucher said.

"Welcome home" welcome back?

Overall, the Rainbow Family Gathering didn't appear to pose an undue burden on local police or businesses. But would the Rainbows be welcome to gather again in the Northwoods?

Most officials and residents to whom the Daily Press posed that question said, "no problem" — but the Rainbows weren't extended engraved invitations either.

Susienka said if the Rainbows returned, the sheriff's office would prepare for them the same as it did this year, but he hoped they would again occupy the national forest and not a county venue.

And despite the low impact the Rainbows had on Ashland crime, Gregoire wouldn't want them camped two miles outside of his jurisdiction.

Dunbar said he had nothing personal against the Rainbows, but they didn't bring in business. If they did return, the Cenex would give them the best customer service.

Although the Rainbows' presence didn't help the bar business thanks to the police presence, Botten said they had no problems with the group or their return.

But ultimately, it's not up to the local communities whether the Rainbows return or not. As Bucher said, it's not his place to welcome them back or not as they occupied publicly owned land.

Now, however, Bucher wants to see how the Rainbows fix up the forest before they leave.

E. coli warnings posted at two Ashland beaches

Swimmers are being warned about high levels of E. coli bacteria at two Ashland beaches following Monday's storms that dumped another downpour on the Northland

Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hudson Tuesday said advisories were posted Tuesday at Kreher Park Beach and the Sixth Avenue Beach. Waterquality advisories are issued when testing shows that the water contains more than 235 colony-forming units of bacteria per 100 milliliters of water. Test results Tuesday showed Kreher Park was the more highly elevated of the two at 800 units, while the Sixth Street beach tested at 500 units. Beach closures result after the level reaches 1,000 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water.

The city's other two beaches, Maslowski Park Beach and Bayview Beach, were not included in the advisory.

Ingesting E. coli bacteria can cause sickness with symptoms ranging from diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. Most adults recover from infection within a week, but children and the elderly who are exposed to it can develop life-threatening kidney failure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The city has been confronting water-quality problems in the bay for the past several years and itself has violated state law 19 times over the past five years when its wastewater plant overflowed and dumped more than 75 million gallons of sewage into the lake.

Hudson said the elevated E. coli levels Tuesday were not the result of overflows at the treatment facility and more likely were caused by rain that washed seagull and other animal waste into the bay. She said E coli in the city's storm drains could also have contributed to the problem.

"At Kreher Park, it was probably coming from the parking lot. When it rains heavily, rain comes down Prentice Avenue and sweeps over the parking lot, goes over the beach and into the lake," she said. "It may have something to do with the geese that hang out at Kreher Park and at the boat landing."

Hudson said E coli in the city's storm drains could also have contributed to the problem.

"This is a fairly common event in the summer, when the warm weather encourages bacterial growth," she said. "This past week has been a perfect scenario for creating more bacteria."

Hudson said the city will continue testing water at all city beaches and she expects bacteria levels to fall unless there is significant additional rain.

The National Weather Service in Duluth on Tuesday said strong storms are expected across the region Tuesday with one to two inches of rain that could lead to flash flooding.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)