Sobriety High’s Alliance Academy in Burnsville closing

Charter school has campuses in Burnsville, Coon Rapids

James Hinze of Farmington said he “always hung around the bad crowd” and abused all kinds of drugs and alcohol.

After emerging from treatment two years ago, he found good friends, good counsel and continuous reinforcement at his new school, Sobriety High’s Alliance Academy in sobriety hs 1

“It’s good, because I can relate to pretty much everybody here because we’re all fighting the same fight,” said Hinze, 16. “Whenever, like, something happens, I can always come to these people at school and they help me, unconditionally.”

Hinze’s sophomore year, which concludes June 7, will be his last year at Alliance Academy, which opened in 2004. Money problems are forcing Sobriety High to close both of its campuses, in Burnsville and Coon Rapids.

“I heard about the school closing, it must have been like two weeks ago,” Hinze said. “And I was devastated, because this school has been my life for, like, two years.”

The charter school campuses are closing because they’ll be a combined $400,000 short of the funds needed to hold school next year, said Paul McGlynn, Sobriety High’s executive director and a former teacher at the Coon Rapids site.

“The issues are financial, really,” he said. “We’ve had lower enrollment and less cash flow due to that lower enrollment. We’ve struggled with maintaining our staffing.”

Holding school next year would require “more staff cuts, and we really don’t have any staff left to cut,” McGlynn said.

Sobriety High is losing a donor who gave $200,000 to $300,000 a year for 15 years. The donor is frustrated that the school isn’t more self-sustaining, McGlynn said.

As a charter school, Sobriety High also receives state per-pupil funding. But the funding is based on a cumulative “daily membership” count, and Sobriety High’s enrollment fluctuates greatly during a school year.

This year’s daily membership is 57 between the two campuses, but 142 students have come through the doors, McGlynn said. The campuses have to staff up for the larger numbers, he said.

“Intake is the most staff-intensive part of our time,” he said.

Most of the transience in student population is a function of some students returning to substance abuse, according to McGlynn.

The Burnsville campus, located in rented office space at 12156 Nicollet Ave., has 23 students but has had as many as 45 in past years.

Money troubles forced Sobriety High, which was started in 1989 in Edina, to close its Maplewood and Edina campuses after the 2009-10 school year.

McGlynn said closing of the Burnsville and Coon Rapids campuses will leave only two sober high schools in the Twin Cities: Insight Recovery School, run by the White Bear Lake public schools, and P.E.A.S.E. Academy, a charter school in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown area.

“It is a crisis to a small number of people,” McGlynn said. “I think there used to be as many as 22 years ago. But it’s been dropping over the last 10 years, more pronounced, I’d say, in the last five.”

Treatment-based referrals are the source of most of Sobriety High’s students, McGlynn said.

Hinze, who attended Farmington’s Dodge Middle School, said he was ordered into treatment by his parents.

“They just got sick and tired of me stealing from them and doing all this stuff,” said Hinze, who came to Alliance Academy his freshman year.

“I can pretty much talk to anybody here: any teachers, any students,” he said. “It’s not like a mainstream school. The teachers here actually have an opportunity to get to know you, and they care about you.”

Afraid of falling back into his old ways, Hinze plans to attend P.E.A.S.E. Academy next year instead of Farmington High School.

It’s about a 40-minute bus ride from his stop in Apple Valley, he said.