Fair share fee draws comment

NEW ULM – During a work session Thursday, the District 88 Board of Education heard an overview of a fair share fee system for extra-curricular activities, and an update on the six-period day at the high school. It also heard a report on what the community would like to see in a new superintendent.

Fair Share Fee

Activities Director Chad Eischens updated the board about the fair share fee system, implemented for the first time this year.

The system concerns schools whose students participate in sports hosted by District 88 via co-operative agreements.

The “major players,” to quote Eischens, in such agreements, are New Ulm Area Catholic Schools, Minnesota Valley Lutheran School, Sleepy Eye Public and Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s.

Traditionally, the fees paid by participants in activities have not covered the cost, and the district has subsidized the difference.

This year, the district is subsidizing the difference only for students in District 88 public schools. It is billing the other co-op schools the full per-participant cost. It is up to the co-op school how to pay (by billing participants, by subsidizing the difference, or any other way).

Eischens also explained the mechanics of the billing. The co-op schools receive three invoices, he said. The first invoice is for same per-student amount that would be collected from District 88 students. The second is for the excess cost over that. The third is a “clean-up” billing.

To put things in perspective, Eischens reported that if this system had been implemented last year, the co-op school bill would have totaled $20,049. If the co-op participants paid the same as District 88 students, the bill would total $8,820. These numbers were for 40 participants from co-op schools, in seven sports.

(Last year’s numbers were used because this year’s are not final.)

Eischens said it was premature to look at any impact of the new fee structure on participation numbers. Numbers went “down just slightly” but, then, fees went up, and variation is in any case not uncommon. “I wouldn’t read too much into that,” said Eischens.

In connection with this issue, administrators shared with the board a letter from New Ulm Area Catholic Schools, urging the board to rescind the system.

Among other things, the letter cited tradition, nearly $1,000 in costs for some families, and the recent passage of a local levy referendum.

The letter says, in part:

“The recent passage of a referendum will provide District 88 with more than $1 million a year, plus inflation dollars, for the next ten years. Taxpayers who live within the boundaries of District 88 will be taxed to provide these referendum dollars. Since all District 88 residents will be paying higher taxes, we are asking that beginning with the 2013-14 school year, the fair share fees being paid this school year be dropped.”

Six-period day

High-school Principal Mark Bergmann, with occasional support from colleague Steve Weber, provided an update on the six-period day at the High School instituted this year.

While originally conceived for financial reasons, the six-period day has been a vehicle for other change, noted Bergmann.

It has provided longer lesson time in core subjects, which helps teachers better address increasingly more extensive state academic standards.

It has allowed for transforming study hall into a more focused, 26-minute resource time (scheduled as part of the mid-day period that also includes lunch). The resource time zeroes in on specific student needs, especially in light of meeting state standards.

It is too early to assess the overall impact of the change, noted Bergmann. But one early positive is a drop in the percent of students failing courses. On the flip side, with the early focus being on students needing extra help or remediation, not enough has yet been done to meet the needs of advanced students.

Several parents and a staff member addressed the meeting after Bergmann’s presentation, stressing issues they have observed with the new schedule.

Objections focused on the limitation of choice. In the traditional seventh-period schedule, students who were not in study hall were able to take an elective, an option that has gone away, said parents.

Some pointed out negatives to the music program. Some students are now forced to choose between band and choir, to the detriment of both. Choir switches between seventh and eight-grade on a semester basis, which will eventually erode the program, said a music teacher.

Speakers also said that while advanced students have a chance to take an online course (and work on it during resource time), the cost is often prohibitive at this stage, and is shouldered by parents, which goes counter to the principles of public education.

Superintendent profile

Consultant Butch Hanson from the South Central Service Co-operative, who along with colleague Ed Waltman is facilitating the search for a new superintendent, shared the outcome of polling the community about what they’d like to see in a new hire.

Superintendent Harold Remme is retiring at the end of this school year.

Hanson listed characteristics, gleaned after polling administrators, teachers, business leaders, parents and others, and explained that these characteristics are a guideline to help rank candidates using a scoring rubric. Some candidates will be strong on some characteristics and weaker on others; this does not mean a candidate would be eliminated from consideration.

About 10-12 candidates have applied for the job so far, and at least so many more are likely to apply, with the posting open until March 1, if past experience is an indicator, noted Hanson.

The first round of interviews, with about six semi-finalists, will take place March 18.

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