A tiny public high school that’s operated at the Mall of America is likely to close after 19 years, a victim of changing mall economics.
The school districts that opened the Metropolitan Learning Alliance as a satellite school in 1994 are moving to dissolve the school. Minneapolis and Bloomington have already voted to do so, and the school’s board meets Thursday night to consider closure. Richfield and St. Paul also are represented in the school and its board.
“It’s so surprising because it happened rather suddenly,” said Bloomington school Board Member Arlene Bush, who leads the school’s board.
The mall needed the school’s third floor space after years of subsidizing its rent, and the participating districts say they can’t afford the build-out cost of a new mall location.
“Space is becoming very limited at Mall of America and for specific tenants we need that space,” mall spokesman Dan Jasper said. The mall also said it wouldn’t subsidize the school’s rent to the same degree it has been, which Jasper said amounted to a $10 million break over the school’s existence.
With school district finances tightening, member districts didn’t want to commit to renovating new space, Minneapolis board member Richard Mammen said. One of the original founding districts, St. Louis Park, dropped out years ago.
The school enrolled just 68 10th- to 12th-graders last school year, according to state data. They’ll finish up the school year and then transfer to other schools. The original concept was that they’d take core classes at their home districts, then spend two hours daily at the mall in class or with internships with businesses. The school now is listed as an alternative school with a complement of six teachers.
Mammen said one change that affects the school is that there are more alternative schools available for students who don’t do well in traditional settings than when the mall school started. He said that Minneapolis supplied 37 of the school’s students and was the largest contributor.
Colleges, chiefly the University of St. Thomas, used the school’s classrooms for evening classes, but St. Thomas moved out years ago because of declining use.
The school was somewhat controversial when it started because of opposition from some who opposed a marriage of education and a bastion of commercialism.
“We were pleased with it or we wouldn’t have kept it going this long,” Bush said.