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Recovery School may not recover finacially

OWATONNA — Dan Nerud, 17, of Dodge Center has a history of making bad decisions.

After he started doing drugs in sixth grade, Nerud said, "I was horrible."

His addiction and actions often landed him in trouble, and over the years he was in and out of the juvenile detention center four times. He spent eight months at Elmore Academy, which provides residential treatment services for youth, he said.

Then, having made a breakthrough in recovery, he made what he feels was the right choice, to go to the Recovery School of Southern Minnesota , a charter school in Owatonna that provides a sober environment and recovery-based education for chemically dependent high school students from around the region.

"They give you the tools, then say, 'Now go use them,'" he said. "They don't hold your hand, they push you."


Unfortunately for other students like Nerud, the school might not open in the fall because of a funding deficit.

"All public schools are feeling the pinch because of the state financial crisis," said Gary Braun, director of the Recovery School.

But because of some of its specialized programming, the recovery school has been hit even harder, he said. Two critical aspects of the program — transportation for students who attend the school from across the region, including Rochester and Austin, and chemical dependency programming, are either underfunded or not funded at all, he said.

Also, as a charter school, its funding is based on state and federal per-pupil formulas, but a big drop in enrollment this year, from an average of 35 to 45 students down to 23, threw off the school's budget, he said.

And while other public schools could levy the community for additional dollars, the charter school doesn't have that option because it has no geographical boundaries, he said.

To adjust, the school cut its food program and one of its three teachers and reduced the chemical dependency councilor position to half time, he said. School officials also are applying for grants and seeking business sponsorships and individual donations, he said.

Students also tried to help by selling cookie dough and raffle tickets, said James Young of Owatonna, who is weighing his options of where he will go for his senior year next year if the school closes.

That decision may come as soon as Wednesday, when the school board meets to go over the budget and the future of the school, Braun said.


"We really are the only program like this in the region," Braun said. "If it closes, there's a great likelihood those students will fall through the cracks."

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