NEW ULM - As District 88 officials develop next year's school budget, they are considering the money-saving potential of modifications to extra-curricular programs in seventh and eighth grades.
A number of possibilities are currently on the table, laid out by Superintendent Harold Remme:
Eliminating a program;
Removing district financial support for the programs and, instead, operating them through Community Education or booster associations;
Reducing the number of coaches;
Reducing the number of contests;
Financial Facts about Activities
(Grades 7-12, 2008-09)
Participation fee revenue: $142,042
Non-fee revenue (season passes, donations, admissions): $108,292
Total revenue: $250,334
Total expenditures: $652,791
Net cost: $402,457
Net loss/participant: $273.70
Net loss as percent of general fund expenditures: 2 percent
Reducing travel expenses by reducing the number of contests or mileage;
Obtaining volunteer event workers for as many events as possible;
Increasing participation fees;
Obtaining increased financial support through booster operations;
Assessing a "fair-share" fee to pairing school programs.
None of these possibilities are ideal, school officials note.
For example, the elimination of a program may have repercussions on another program - under federal regulations that mandate equal opportunities for boys and girls.
Or, it may be difficult to reduce contests independently, and still fill a schedule. A smaller number of events could reduce revenue; limitations by conference may apply.
"Fair-share" fees - charging non-public students (or schools) more than public-school students to participate in joint programs - may revive ever-present fair taxation concerns. It could result in non-participation, and in an inadequate number of participants to have a program.
In 2008-09, the last year for which complete numbers are available, District 88 subsidized extra-curricular activities in grades 7-12 - in sports, arts and academic fields such as Knowledge Bowl - to the tune of just more than $400,000.
This is 2 percent of the general fund budget - and an approximate average net loss per participant of $274.
The total shortfall for the seventh- and eighth-grade program was approximately $83,000 - or an average $350 per participant.
In most cases, seventh- and eighth-graders participate in activities with age-level peers. In some activities, though, they participate at the varsity level. The latter are not included in the seventh and eighth analysis.
As program costs are calculated, it is assumed that the office of the activity director is assessed on a cost/participant basis. The AD office costs $124 per participant.
The discussion about program change is solely fueled by budget concerns.
Few, if any, deny the program's intrinsic value.
With 1,470 participants in 2008-09, activities provide success opportunities for many students, says Remme.
Students involved in them tend to have a better record of academic achievement than non-participants.
Volleyball players last fall reported a GPA of 3.952; girls on the tennis team had a GPA of 3.644; girl soccer players had a GPA of 3.299; boy soccer players had a GPA of 3.187; and football players a GPA of 3.140.
Participation in activities provides teamwork experiences not easily duplicated in other programs, Remme says.
In addition, eliminating a program may result in enrollment loss.
As the debate unfolds, school officials have taken a closer look at how things are done in Hutchinson, a district of comparable size.
In 2003, the Hutchinson seventh- and eight-grade extra-curricular program passed into the hands of Community Education and the city Park and Rec Department, District 88 AD Steve Worm, who familiarized himself with it, reports.
The program was combined with existing park and rec programs and shortened. Participants now pay a uniform, lower fee ($85). Coaching salaries have been adjusted. The program is fully intra-mural.
After the initial adjustment phase, the program appears to be running smoothly and enjoying high level of support. Booster associations run their own programs in conjunction with it, extending the activity seasons.
The most notable, unexpected effect of this switchover?
"It has brought kids out of the woodwork," Worm reports, quoting Hutchinson officials.
With the less competitive nature of the program, smaller fees and shorter time commitments, participation numbers have mushroomed.
In one example, a few years after the switchover, high school football coaches found they had four quarterbacks to work with, not one.
A transition of this kind calls for a strong relationship among city, park and rec, schools and community, muses Worm.
Be that as it may, its possibilities are intriguing, in times of budget stress.
School officials and school board members are suggesting studying the experience of others.
Area non-public schools with smaller student pools and resources are running programs concurrently, but on alternate days, some point out.
Board member Patricia Hoffman suggests exploring novel partnerships - a joint program with members of the Cottonwood River Integration Collaborative?
Worm raises the possibility of training coaches to drive buses to events, saving on layover costs.
"When those costs run $50 to $75 per trip, it becomes a matter of some significance," says Worm.