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Townships must decide for themselves to join community ed, director says

Sept. 29, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

DASSEL-COKATO, MN – Individual townships have the responsibility to decide whether to partner with the Dassel-Cokato Community Education program, not the school district, said Community Education Director Perry Thinesen.

Thinesen was responding Tuesday to Dassel City Council’s Sept. 15 decision to hold off on approving the community education’s joint powers agreement. Dassel will pay $7,370, Cokato will pay $14,630, and the school district will pay $20,000, according to the agreement recommended by the joint powers board Aug. 28. Township residents are not expected to help fund the $700,000 program as much as the cities are.

Township residents enjoy the same benefits from the community education program as residents of the two cities do, said City Administrator Myles McGrath Sept. 15. As a result, the current funding is inequitable, he added.

The benefits include Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE,) youth enrichment and recreation, swimming lessons, Charger Kids Club, adult basic education and recreation and performing arts.

Rebecca Warpula, director of DC’s ECFE, said the community ed board appreciates that the Cities of Dassel and Cokato chose to come into the program as partners. The board also welcomes the townships to be partners, she said.

Thinesen added that representatives from three groups, Dassel, Cokato, and Community Education, should pursue partnerships from the township boards of supervisors in the school district.

The amounts the two cities pay for Community Education help keep the program’s classes and activities at affordable rates, Thinesen said.

Thinesen added that he didn’t want to speak for the school board. However, if Dassel and Cokato would pull their funding, he feared the school district also would pull its $20,000. It would put a $40,000 hole in the community ed budget, he said.

“In community education, we have to stand on our own two legs,” Thinesen said.

Community ed’s funding sources from the state are separate from the school district’s, he added.

The funding from the two cities has been changed only twice in the past 30 years, Thinesen said. The amounts kicked in by the two cities are not really based per capita, but on population in relation to each other. If both cities grow, the two cities will pay the same as they do now, Thinesen said.

In addition, the community education joint powers agreement has no provision for any automatic increases, pointed out Colleen Compton, adult programs coordinator for community education.

McGrath misinterpreted the terms of the agreement when he said he was “alarmed by the new funding proposal that would cap the amount of responsibility by the school district, and load it directly onto the cities,” according to a memorandum McGrath submitted to the city council, Thinesen said.

The document doesn’t load anything onto cities. Two years ago, the cities chose for themselves to increase their funding to the current levels, he said.

Prior to January 2007, Dassel paid $6,700, Cokato paid $13,300, and the school district paid $20,000, Compton said.

Most school districts don’t provide $20,000 to their community ed programs. It is extraordinary that DC is providing the additional funding, said Thinesen, who has been community ed director in three other districts before he came to DC.

School District Business Manager Tina Palmer said in addition to the $20,000, the school district also pays for utilities, facility rent, custodial time and administrative overhead for community education.

Finally, if the cities paid for the recreational and educational activities provided by community ed themselves, it would cost a fortune, Thinesen said.

Also, Compton pointed out that when township residents drive to the high school or cities for community ed activities, they often stop in Dassel and Cokato to buy gasoline, shop, and patronize city businesses. Community ed provides economic benefits as well as educational benefits to cities, she said.

As of Tuesday, the City of Cokato hadn’t been contacted by Dassel city officials as to how it will respond to the joint powers agreement.

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