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Area high schools hit with COVID fees from MSHSL

NEW ULM — School districts all over Minnesota are being hit with what is called the “COVID Installment” by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL).

The MSHSL anticipates a budget deficit because of the cancellation of state tournaments and the loss of revenue and has assessed each school district a fee to help recover that loss.

Here in the area, school districts are being tagged with fees between $3,000 (Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s) to $5,000 for schools like Sleepy Eye Public and Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop to $7,000 for Minnesota Valley Lutheran to as high as $9,000 for New Ulm High School.

That extra cost has not set well with administrators.

“We did not know that ($9,000) was coming,” District 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang said. “We usually pay a membership fee and an activities fee for every sport we participate in. Last year the fee was $110 and now it is $160 and the activity registration per activity was $110 and now it is $160. So we knew that the (MSHSL) was increasing those but then they added the ‘dollar per student fee,’ that is new.

“So we went from $2,640 last year to $4,427 this year just to belong to the MSHSL for activities,” Bertrang said. “Then last week we get a billing for COVID and now we have to pay two installments of $4,500 each for a total of $9,000.”

Bertrang said that he is “not impressed by the league because when we did the resolution in July to participate again the (MSHSL) said that the billings would come in late July and early August but we got all of the billings last month.”

“I am pretty sure if our (school) board would have known that this was going to come we would have had a long conversation about the State High School League,” Bertrang said. “This is over a 500% increase.”

Bertrang said that himself and the rest of the Big South Conference administrators are meeting Wednesday to talk about the added fees. Bertrang said that most districts will have to take it out of their operating reserves.

“We are not flush with cash to start with and we have other bills that we have to pay because of COVID.”

Bertrang said that cancelling of state tournaments cost the MSHSL money.

“But that should not fall on the high schools in Minnesota to make up the difference,” he said. “We are going to talk Wednesday but if the (MSHSL) is not going to have any postseason play this year why does it matter.”

MVL Activities Director Craig Morgan said that when he got the bill for $7,000 he was not surprised.

“I figured it would be right around there,” he said. “We just got the bill [Monday] and our superintendent just looked at it so we have not talked yet.”

MVL had $3,700 for initial fees to the MSHSL and now has to find an additional $7,000 for the COVID Installment.

Morgan said that he does not want to saddle the parents and raise activity fees.

“You cannot raise activity fees to cover $7,000. I do not know where the money will come from.”

Morgan said that 75% of the MSHSL income comes from tournaments.

“COVID hit and now they have to find that income. Trying to find $7,000 on a $2 million school budget. My activity budget is $65,000 so I can’t find $7,000 there.”

Morgan said that the Tomahawk Conference administrators are also meeting on Wednesday.

Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Activities Director Bruce Woitas said that his school’s initial fee to the MSHSL was $3,285 and now he needs an additional $3,000.

“We have to make two installments payments of $1,500 in November and then in February,” he said. “We knew that there was something coming because they lost all of the income from the boys’ and girls’ state basketball and hockey tournaments and all of the spring sports.”

Woitas said that his school “will find a way to cover the fee. The MSHSL is an important partner to all of the member schools. It is unfortunate that we are all in this situation.”

But both Morgan and Woitas said that while the MSHSL did lose money on the cancelled state tournaments that if there are state tournaments with revenue coming in then moneys will be coming back to member schools.

Alan Woitas, Activities Director at New Ulm Cathedral said that he did not anticipate his COVID Installment fee being as high as $5,000.

“But it is what is is now and we will figure out a way to compensate,” Alan Woitas said. “We are going to have to go to the drawing board and get creative with some of our spending priorities and find a way to balance our budget. I would hope that we do not have to make any cuts and still offer all of the programs that we do. That is our goal each year.”

Rich Busse of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop said that he has a conversation coming up with the GFW Superintendent later this week.

“We are going to have to see if we can scrape it together,” Busse said. “Our athletic budget barely covers the officials and registration fees. But this $5,000 was a surprise to everybody.”

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