FREEBORN (AP) -- Seven months after it opened, an experimental high school aimed at helping recovering teen-age addicts stay sober and get back on their feet is in danger of closing.
''The picture is not good,'' said Greg Spath, principal of United South Central High School in the neighboring town of Wells and administrator of the Sober School.
''We have not said we'll pull the plug yet. But I've called a couple of people who have been active in this since the beginning, who have been strong supporters, and they are saying, 'You know, Greg, I don't know what else can be done.'''
Financial pressures on the USC district -- it must cut at least $500,000 from its operating budget next year -- coupled with the Sober School's own debt of at least $65,000 make it a likely candidate to be eliminated when the school board addresses the issue next month.
''When you're cutting approximately a half-million dollars on the one hand, you can't be turning around and losing tens of thousands on the other hand and go back to the community and say, 'We're being responsible,''' said Carlton Frank, a school board member who has been a program advocate.
There are at least six high school programs in the Twin Cities for recovering addicts, but there are few, if any, in rural Minnesota, chemical dependency experts say.
District officials had figured it would cost about $110,000 annually to run the school, which draws students from throughout southeastern Minnesota. They figured they'd need 23 students to break even. They've come as close as 21.
Program boosters say the biggest problem with increasing enrollment has been transportation. Because the program draws from several counties, many students must travel long distances to get there.
Attempts to secure resources from the Legislature, foundations and county boards to meet the cost of transportation have failed.
''We can't take the hit with the Sober School without some help,'' Frank said. ''If we have to do it on our own, I don't think we can pull it off.''
Of the students who have attended the Sober School, some returned to their home districts. Others left after getting into trouble with the law. Two were kicked out because they couldn't stay sober or violated school rules.
But other students have benefited.
''The kids are learning, and their skills are better than they thought they could be,'' said Jim Prust, the school's teacher and director. ''For the most part, they've had a sober year. For a lot of them, they've had more success here than they thought they'd have.''
Sixteen-year-old Lillian Porter, of Blue Earth, said she routinely used to cut class and skip school. Since she enrolled at the Sober School, her attendance and attitude have improved.
''I look forward to coming to school every day,'' she said. ''That's the biggest change right there.''
Shane Dobbe, 18, a senior from Wells, also has enjoyed success. While attending USC in Wells, he said, he was ''about a D- to F student.'' Since he enrolled at the Sober School, his attitude and grades have improved.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.