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School board reluctantly agrees to pay MSHSL

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    The Crookston School Board reluctantly approved a renewal for membership with the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) this week after acknowledging the large increase in fees were not only concerning, but that the league “had them over a barrel” as students in activities would not be able to participate in competitions against other schools if they did not opt in.

    Board chair Frank Fee said the MSHSL went from a $9 million budget to a $5 million budget and the league is asking all schools to “dip mightily” into their funds to help them out.

    Crookston’s MSHSL membership fees went from $2,500 to $4,000, plus they’re required to pay a “COVID installment” of $3,500 due by the end of November and $3,500 more next year, Fee explained.

    After a request for a motion to accept the renewal failed, Fee said, “One option is not pay it and our kids cannot participate; two is to pay it and bear it.”

    “I’m totally against it, can’t stand this,” he added before mentioning he still recommended they go forward with the renewal.

    The board then made a motion and a second to pay the MSHSL membership fees and installments before Superintendent Jeremy Olson noted that the MSHSL was “in trouble” before COVID and said he was reluctantly recommending they move forward.

    “I don’t like the way this was communicated, but we do what’s best for our kids,” said Olson. “I don’t see another alternative for our kids.”

    School Board member Mike Theis said, in his opinion, it was “atrocious” of the MSHSL to come to the school districts with the suggested increases and felt the league only had a small reduction in their own finances.

    “It seems like they’re hijacking school districts; not holding themselves accountable,” he added. “I want the kids to participate in the high school league. I’d like to see some type of resolution and set a limit on how long we’ll go with the amount of money they’re forcing on us.”

    Later, Theis asked if Crookston didn’t participate what would happen and Fee said other schools wouldn’t be allowed to play against the district and they could risk “getting in trouble if they play us.”

    “They really do have us over a barrel,” Theis admitted before Superintendent Olson noted that he hasn’t seen a large number of schools leaving the MSHSL at this time.

    “I’ll probably vote yes (to pay the MSHSL) but underneath my mask I’m not smiling,” said School Board member Dave Davidson.

MSHSL LETTER

    In a letter to the district, the MSHSL notes they’ll be funding the basic costs through member fees based on traditional membership dues and activity fees as well as two additional installments based on size of school.

    “The MSHSL has made reductions and accessed available reserves of approximately 20 percent and noted an anticipated loss of 75 percent of the league’s revenue due to the uncertainty of state tournament events which caused they to create the need for further adjustments in their finance model,” said the letter. “Looking back, the 2019-2020 fiscal year for the League withstood nearly $600,000 in losses due to the cancellation of the final stages of the Girls Basketball State Tournament and the entirety of the Boys Basketball State Tournament. Through reductions in operational costs, staffing, printing costs and many more items, and the anticipated forgiveness of a Paycheck Protection Program loan, the final budget for last year is predicted to finish at approximately the same level as it was projected.”

    “The current plan for membership fees based on both activity fees plus installments over the course of the year based on school size was approved as a short-term plan,” the letter continued. “This would ensure that the League could continue to provide activities and services for member schools through a COVID-19 pandemic. When the effects of this pandemic subside, the League would continue forward with a long-term plan that aligns membership fees with the operational and insurance costs of the League.”