By Starrla Cray
McLEOD COUNTY, MN Debate over the future of Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity sports pairing bounced back and forth at the Lester Prairie School Board meeting last Monday like a plump, new basketball.
“We’re on our fourth year right now of pairing and sharing with Holy Trinity,” Superintendent Mike McNulty said.
Lester Prairie’s school board approved an official pairing contract, but Holy Trinity has not signed it yet.
“When we asked them why they hadn’t signed that agreement, they gave us no specific response why,” board/athletic committee member Karla Heigl said.
Currently, about 70 percent of the students in the schools’ sports are from the Lester Prairie School District, McNulty said. If the junior high students are not factored in, that figure increases to 80 percent.
Because Lester Prairie has more students participating, the athletic committee said it feels that Lester Prairie should have more control. Instead of trying to get Holy Trinity to sign the current agreement (which divides control between the schools) the athletic committee is in favor of a co-op agreement.
“I feel that this would eliminate much of the confusion that exists under the current agreement,” athletic director Thayne Johnson noted.
One of the issues he cited involved coaches canceling practice and relaying it to Holy Trinity administration, but not to Lester Prairie administration. There have also been problems with parents not being notified of schedule changes, or coaches not getting proper information relayed to them through Holy Trinity administration, he said.
Under a co-op, Lester Prairie would have nearly total control over what, where, and how athletics are done, and Holy Trinity could opt in if it chose to do so.
“They want everything 50/50, but we don’t feel that is fair, because we have 70 percent,” board member Rawelin Radtke said. “Our goal is to do the thing that’s in the best interest of Lester Prairie.”
“They are not satisfied with what we have offered,” Heigl added, stating that Holy Trinity would like even more control than it currently has.
“Some of the parents still hold out the hopes that we’re going to go to neutral colors and a new mascot,” Heigl said. “Looking at the number, I don’t see that as being in the best interest for our district, since we are the larger school.”
Holy Trinity came up with the idea of having a joint committee, but “after discussions, we just thought that would make the confusion even worse,” Heigl said.
The number of student participants from Holy Trinity has been on the decline, she said, explaining that the average number of students in Holy Trinity’s high school grades is about 19 students. In the elementary school, the average is down to about 13, she added.
Board member Fred Blaser suggested giving Holy Trinity one more opportunity to sign the original contract, before considering a co-op agreement.
“That’s not a threat or anything else; it’s just telling them how we’re going to proceed,” Blaser said. “I think the co-op’s a good idea, but I want to afford them every opportunity.”
Radtke was resistant to this idea, stating that the athletic committee has tried unsuccessfully to get Holy Trinity to sign before.
“It’s a constant pushing back and forth,” he said. “I don’t see myself coming back here next month with a different way of proceeding.”
However, Blaser said “there is no pressing thing where we have to do it tonight.”
Board member Joe Miller agreed.
“I strongly oppose the idea of a co-op,” Miller said. “I hope we won’t take any action tonight.”
Many of the communication issues wouldn’t necessarily be solved with a co-op, according to Miller. Also, the pairing has worked for the past four years, so he is not eager to change it.
“I’ve found no one who’s said they’ve had a bad experience with pairing,” Miller said.
After a lengthy discussion, the board decided to present Holy Trinity with a formal letter asking it to sign the contract. Before presenting them the contract, the athletic committee plans to reword the description of Lester Prairie’s athletic director.
The contract would be valid for five years, and would give either school the ability to opt out at the end of each year.
“Hopefully, we’ll have better luck this time around,” Heigl said.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• heard that the fall sports season has almost ended and section playoffs will start soon for both football and volleyball. The section cross country meet is Thursday, Oct. 28 at Battle Creek Regional Park in Maplewood.
• approved donations of $29,268, which were given from July through September. The LP Education Foundation gave $5,000 for scholarships, 3M gave a $10,000 science donation, and a $2,500 undesignated donation was given by the 4.0 Bus Company.
Target gave an elementary school donation of $2,464 and a high school donation of $1,008.
Two SMART board donations were also given, one for $2,472 by Devan and Devota Stoltenow, and one for $2,400 by LPAC.
Bernard Jeurissen donated $900 for the baby alive/health class, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans donated $615 for a community education breakfast. The booster club gave $600 for a popcorn machine, and $600 for volleyball uniforms. The task force gave $680 for free lunch bussing, and the American Legion donated $29 for safety patrol.
“We’ve had some very generous donations,” McNulty said, adding that the school plans to send personal thank-you cards to the donors.
• Briefly discussed policies on social media, busing, and policy implementation.
• approved the purchase of a school vehicle not to exceed $14,000, which would primarily be used for drivers’ training. McNulty said they are hoping to purchase a mid-sized car with between 30,000 to 45,000 miles on it. They are hoping to keep the cost around $12,000. The school has been renting a 2006 Chevrolet Impala, but according to McNulty, it would be a cost savings to the school to purchase a vehicle.
“After three years, we would start saving, assuming no major repair expenses,” he said. The school plans to put about 20,000 miles on the car each year.
• approved extracurricular contracts as follows: Dan Heiraas as head girls’ basketball coach, Lindsey Heiraas as junior varsity girls’ basketball coach, Troy Feltmann as media coordinator, Dean Neumann as head boys’ basketball coach, Trent Grams as junior varsity boys’ basketball coach, Mike Kegler as eighth grade boys’ basketball coach, Dave Marquardt as seventh grade boys’ basketball coach, Gene Starke as seventh grade girls’ basketball coach, David Klitzke as spelling bee coordinator, and Lacy Schramm as head of Knowledge Bowl.
• heard that student count for k-12 as of Oct. 14 was 387 students.
• approved the annual report on curriculum, instruction, and student achievement. Near the end of the report is a breakdown of student state test scores. “You can see how groups of students have done in a three-year period,” Miller said, adding that although the data can be interesting and informative, it does not give an accurate representation of how the school district is doing.
• discussed the English Language Learners (ELL)/ English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Currently, there are just over 30 students in the program, according to McNulty. Students who start the program in kindergarten should be able to move out of it by the end of sixth grade, but “that has not been happening.”
The main reason why the program isn’t as successful as it could be is lack of time, he said, explaining that about four or five hours should be spent on instruction each day, but currently it’s only about two hours.
“We have a very strong Hispanic group from the school district,” McNulty said. He would like to see more hours allotted to the ELL/ESL program, and at the November board meeting, the board will discuss the possibility of an increase.
• heard that the Head Start teacher resigned, and the new teacher’s official start day is Monday, Oct. 25.
• heard that there will be a community education advisory meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8.
• heard that all six SMART boards have been mounted, and science teacher Michael Bjork and third grade teacher Kelly Kramer will do a demonstration of the boards Thursday, Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m.
• heard that the exhaust motor was replaced in the girls’ locker room. Also, a sump pump has been installed, and the horn and exit sign in the gym have been replaced.
• heard that the school carnival will be Thursday, March 24.
• heard that the police department will be conducting safety training at Lester Prairie City Hall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17.