By Aaron Schultz
More than 30 residents made their concerns known as the Lester Prairie School Board hosted an open forum for the public to discuss the sports pairing with Holy Trinity last Monday.
Prior to the forum, Superintendent Greg East opened with a statement about the pairing, addressed some concerns he had been made aware of, and told the crowd how it was his and Holy Trinity’s intention to extend the current agreement, which runs out after the 2008-09 season, for an additional two years.
At that point, the board opened the floor for discussion.
After more than 45 minutes of discussion, board members discussed the issue for several more minutes when Melissa Williams made a motion, which was seconded by Karla Heigl, to table the decision until the August meeting.
The biggest reason Williams and Heigl gave to table the decision was so that principal/athletic director Scott Fitzsimonds could be in attendance and answer several of the board’s questions.
Fitzsimonds was not at the meeting. East stated that this was his month off, and that he directed Fitzsimonds to attend his son’s game.
The motion to table the decision was voted yes by Heigl, Williams, and Jeff Hecksel; with Fred Blaser, Chester Hoernemann, and Jim Jorgenson voting against.
Since there was no majority, the motion was defeated.
Following the defeat of the motion to table the decision, Hoernemann made a motion to extend the pairing with Holy Trinity for two additional years.
This motion passed 4-2, with Williams and Heigl voting against.
After the vote, there was some additional discussion concerning the nature of the pairing and sharing agreement with Holy Trinity, and that is when Heigl made an additional motion.
This motion was to have the Lester Prairie athletic director be the responsible party for the pairing as far as scheduling, uniforms, etc.
It was Heigl’s hope that by making this motion, it would eliminate some of the inconsistencies that occurred during the first year of the pairing.
Some of those include location of home games between Lester Prairie and Holy Trinity, as well as which uniforms each team wears.
According to Heigl, Fitzsimonds was looking for direction from the board.
After some discussion among the board, the motion went to a vote, and passed 4-2, with Hoernemann and Blaser voting against.
The open forum brought about a lot of passionate debate among the 30 or so Lester Prairie residents who attended.
The forum started and was dominated with discussion concerning how the two schools paid for the pairing.
Last year, when the two schools first came together and agreed to pair in all sports, nothing was put in paper regarding how the two sides would settle up.
Former superintendant Joe Miller explained that the two sides discussed the issue, and had an oral agreement that it would be taken care of at the end of the school year.
“In our discussions, we decided we could wait until the end of the year and give them the total cost. We did submit it to them quarterly, or at the end of each season, but our plan was that at the end of the year, we would settle up,” Miller said. “And their plan is to settle up, which is what Greg (East) worked out.”
The total sports cost for the 2007-08 school year was $224,217.
Of that cost, Holy Trinity is responsible for $51,642.
The total cost number comes from all expenses coaches, equipment, etc.
Once a final number of players comes out for each sport, then each school pays a percentage of that cost, determined by the total number of students out for that sport.
Example: If a particular sport has a total of 10 athletes out for it, with Holy Trinity having four and Lester Prairie having six, that is how the cost would be split.
This brings us to how Holy Trinity and Lester Prairie have set up a plan to settle up the cost.
“I approached Holy Trinity with a payment plan, and we came to this agreement,” East said.
The plan is for Holy Trinity to make a payment of $10,328 every month, starting Aug. 5, for the next five months through December to settle last year’s cost with the understanding that the December payment may be a bit larger because the dollar amount was rounded to an approximate number.
East then went on to explain that for the upcoming season and for every season after, the payments would be made as received by Holy Trinity.
According to East, he received an e-mail from Bill Tschida, the principal at Holy Trinity, stating that the payment schedule was accepted by Holy Trinity.
“A lot of people can say a lot of things about the money owed. It could have been written in the original plan, but it wasn’t,” East said. “It is there now and it is there for the future, and they will stay current and get themselves caught up. Realistically, when you work as a partner, and that is what we are, that is what pairing and sharing is, you have to take into account where your partner is at.”
Prior to the forum, in his opening statement, East acknowledged that he had talked with Father Bill Sprigler and that Father was all for going forward with the pairing and assured East that Holy Trinity would take care of its share of the cost for the athletic program.
“Would I love to have all of the money sitting here tomorrow? Yes, I’m not going to lie to you,” East said. “However, we are just as much at fault because, as a school district, legally, in a court of law, we did not set up how payment was to be rendered. Now, we have done it.”
While many of the money concerns were discussed by East, several of the people in attendance still brought up their displeasure with how the situation was handled.
Much of the discussion centered around the money issue from talk of it being an interest-free loan, to a trust issue some felt towards Holy Trinity’s administration.
Many of those in attendance felt that going forward with two additional years of the pairing should be put on the back burner until payment was made by Holy Trinity for the past year, as well as for a portion of this season.
Those issues were taken under consideration by the school board, but in the end, the board went forward and approved two additional years of the pairing.
However, for those who are apprehensive concerning the payment issue, the board did mention that should payments not come in from Holy Trinity, they could revisit the issue of the pairing prior to the start of the second two years.
Other topics from forum
Among other items, the biggest issue pertained to the number of participants, as well as location of games.
Many felt that at the junior high level, there was not enough playing time for the number of kids out in particular sports.
While there was one mention of playing time in football, the biggest two sports of concern were junior high volleyball and boys’ basketball.
Very large numbers in those sports, along with a lack of games, caused a problem of playing time.
Many of the parents on hand at the meeting stated that this was their biggest area of concern.
East and the board acknowledged this was an issue, and that these types of problems would be worked out.
The person who will be in charge of working this out will be Fitzsimonds, who wasn’t present at the meeting.
The board directed East to make sure Fitzsimonds was on hand at the August meeting so some of these issued could be addressed.
Other issues that the board hope to discuss with Fitzsimonds during the August meeting include the hiring of a varsity volleyball coach, along with the boys’ basketball head coaching position.
The topic of the head boys’ basketball coaching position was brought up by several people, but the board deferred that topic until the August meeting when Fitzsimonds would be there.
As for the locations of the games, especially this fall, there was a concern that only two home volleyball matches would be played in Lester Prairie this fall, with the rest taking place at Holy Trinity.
That, again, was referred to Fitzsimonds.
Looking at football, there will be a home game played in Winsted this season, with two homecoming games.
Each school will have its own homecoming, and homecoming football game.
As for the locations of games during the other seasons, those are decisions that are to be made by Fitzsimonds with input from the coaches and administration.
Length of pairing
There was some concern over pairing for only an additional two years. Instead, some hoped that a lengthier agreement, from five to 10 years, could be worked out.
The two-year agreement is the standard, according to East.
East went on to explain that no one knows what the future might hold, so to make a lengthier agreement may not be in the best interest of either school.
According to Dave Stead at the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), schools entering a pairing situation are locked in for two years.
Stead went on to say that after the two years, the schools remain paired until they bring it before the MSHSL to resolve it.
Head football coach Joe Scoblic then talked for a period of time, stating how he is all for the pairing, and believes it is working out great concerning the athletic side of things.
However, Scoblic then went on to address the possibility of changing colors and uniforms.
“As a taxpayer, I would be uncomfortable with the district spending thousands of dollars on new uniforms if a longer agreement wasn’t in place,” Scoblic said.
For the time being, the pairing will only be locked in through the spring of 2011.
Kids got along great
In the end, all of this is for the children attending the two schools, and according to everyone who brought anything up about that issue that went great.
Every person in the crowd who spoke during the forum had nothing negative to say about how the kids from the two towns got along.
“We’re here for the kids,” Blaser said. “I think this pairing is in the best interest of the kids.”
“The key part for me is that the kids get along,” Hoernemann said. “No one said the kids didn’t get along. I’m in favor of continuing it (the pairing). We need to think about the kids.”
Talking to Holy Trinity Principal Tschida, he was happy that the pairing was going to continue.
“We felt the pairing went well, and want to continue to work hard to make sure the pairing is a success,” Tschida said. “Holy Trinity appreciates the Lester Prairie School Board moving forward and agreeing on two more years of the pairing.”
When asked about the participation numbers for this year’s teams between the two schools, East did not have any current numbers available.
However, he did list the number of participants from last year in each sport.
These are participation numbers for grades 7-12 from the 2007-08 school year.
Sport Total HT LP
Baseball 48 12 36
Track 27 8 19
Softball 34 12 22
C.C. 12 6 6
Football 105 23 82
VolleyB. 65 25 40
BBB 70 25 45
GBB 43 15 28
Holy Trinity graduated 20 students this past spring, while Lester Prairie graduated 33.
Those are total graduation numbers, not just the students that participated in athletics.
As for what the future participation numbers will be, that could be anyone’s guess.
However, below is what each school is projecting as its class enrollment for the upcoming school year:
Grade HT LP
Kindergarten 16 42
1st grade 11 26
2nd grade 7 32
3rd grade 14 40
4th grade 13 37
5th grade 22 28
6th grade 14 33
7th grade 18 33*
8th grade 30 37*
9th grade 11 30*
10th grade 22 45*
11th grade 11 45*
12th grade 19 34*
* Lester Prairie’s enrollment numbers for grades 7-12 for the 2008-09 school year were unavailable at press time. The numbers above are what each class ended with in the spring of 2007.