Hockey supporters wary of new conference

NEW ULM – A potential merger of the Southwest and South Central Conferences – and specifically its implications to the local hockey program – drew much of the spotlight during the District 88 Board of Education meeting Thursday night.

The merger conversation is propelled by factors such as the need to achieve cost and scheduling efficiencies, ensure the vitality of programs, and other similar considerations. It would happen in 2014-15 and involve a two-year commitment.

Athletic Director Chad Eischens recapped the timeline in the process and presented draft schedules, a constitution and by-laws for the new conference.

Eischens compared this and next school year’s projected time out of class, mileage and busing costs. He qualified that the projections involve some unknowns and the actual numbers may differ.

According to the comparison, if the merger happens, New Ulm students would be out of class because of events for a projected 2,276 minutes in 2014-15, compared to 1,882 minutes this year. However, Eischens pointed out that this increase is because of crossover events – the year after would see the numbers change in the opposite direction, as other teams return the favor.

Following a similar logic, the estimated mileage that local teams would travel next year would be 30,744, up from 29,345 this year; and busing costs would be $112,523 (based on current-year prices), up from $107,403 this year. Both would drop during the second year of the cycle.

Most sports would see relatively minor changes in scheduling, playing mostly the same teams, with just a few crossover games, explained officials. The exception for New Ulm would be hockey, which under the new schedule would see “a double round robin” effect.

New Ulm has traditionally played schools to the east and filled the remainder of its schedule with games against non-conference but similarly-sized programs, explained officials. Under the proposed change, however, it would be “forced” to play schools to the west, many of which do not have JV hockey programs.

This potential change drew concerned comments from coaches and hockey supporters who filled the usually empty boardroom. Not having sufficient opposition at the JV level would weaken the varsity program, many argued.

Speakers addressed the board suggesting possibilities such as working out a flexible scheduling arrangement for hockey before committing to the new conference, an opt-out clause for hockey, etc.

Superintendent Jeff Bertrang cautioned that partner schools may face similar issues in different sports – or, as he put it, “they have their own dog in the fight.”

Eischens noted that there would be “political ramifications” for opting out, with schools potentially unwilling to collaborate in other sports.

The board will take up the issue again at its Nov. 21 meeting. Other schools in the merger talks are concurrently going through a similar deliberation process.

Other Board action

* Professional Learning Communities Coordinator Sue Rosenow familiarized the board with academic testing data used to inform instructional decisions.

The data shows that New Ulm compares very favorably on most indicators to area and state schools, she demonstrated.

Rosenow displayed scatter plots showing how New Ulm’s test scores changed over time, compared to other area schools.

The various test scores analyzed by Rosenow to help teachers use them have been reported by the Journal when first made public.

* The board approved two new policies, on Buildings and Sites Naming Rights and on Sunday Practice.

The Buildings and Sites Naming Rights policy establishes criteria and procedures for granting naming rights for school district facilities.

The policy on Sunday Practice allows non-Minnesota State High School League programs to hold practices on Sundays. Practices will be allowed between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., with no events, beginning next school year.

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