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Q and A: The value of school activities

With the start of fall school activities we thought it would be a good idea to communicate with the public about our extracurricular program at Perham-Dent Public Schools. We offer a wide variety of co-curricular activities for students in grades 5-12.

People are often passionate about these programs because it involves our community's greatest resource, our youth. These programs often become part of our identity and culture, as a result people want to know how programs operate, our philosophy, and ask questions as to how we arrive at certain decisions.

We do not distinguish between fine arts and athletics at Perham-Dent. We value all student activities; the life lessons gained in basketball or wrestling are similar to Science Research, speech, mock trial, or the community musical. A person either supports extracurricular activities or you don't.

Who pays when teams travel overnight?

If it is a non-qualifying MSHSL (Minnesota State High School League) event families or booster clubs must pay for lodging and meals; Department pays for travel. Often times our teams (speech, track, wrestling, gymnastics, golf, basketball, etc.) will ask to participate in a tournament that features better competition or a change in the normal schools we face. If that is the case we will make sure that we have room on our schedule and accommodations are secured before we schedule transportation.

If the team or group has earned the opportunity to compete in a qualifying event (MSHSL) then the district pays for official squad members to attend; that means travel, meals, and lodging. We do not exceed the meal allowance and often times work with local grocers to secure great rates to transport food with team; when we do this it allows for healthy food, ease in scheduling of team, and of course it's cheaper. We book 4 students to a room.

Occasionally a coach/director will ask to take some non-qualifying students to a section or state trip. If approved, those students pay their own way; they do not go at the expense of the school district.

Some of our activities require significant travel even at the section level. Examples include section girls swimming at Warroad, section baseball at Roseau, section mock trial at Dawson, section boys swimming at Hutchinson, and section girls' tennis at Grand Forks. Since they are qualifying events we cover the costs.

If teams travel over three hours one way for an event we often schedule a motor coach instead of a school bus. If you see or hear of a motor coach on a shorter trip that means the team has agreed to pay the difference with funds they or a booster club have raised.

The MSHSL shares its state tournament profits with participating schools, depending on the attendance at these events, TV contracts, etc. each school typically receives a refund of 20-30% of its actual state tournament costs.

How do we determine coach/director to student ratio?

Our general guideline is 15:1; it is stated in the Activity Department Handbook and for the most part is a good number.

We view wrestling, football, and gymnastics somewhat different from other athletic and fine arts activities in that risk of catastrophic injury is more common on a national level. While serious injury can occur in any activity, even when there is a healthy supervision ratio, it is prudent on our part to provide quality supervision and instruction.

Activities such as speech and cross country lend themselves to a higher ratio because practice is much easier to schedule and conduct. If you are training all of your boys to run a 3 mile race it is quite different than training and teaching 13 track and field events. This is why some activities exceed the ratio and may run as high as 25:1.

Some of our activities make excellent use of volunteers. During the past year varsity football had two extra coaches; both volunteered. Wrestling was similar, two shared one paid position and one individual volunteered his time. These people add flavor to our programs and our students benefit greatly from their efforts.

Sometimes it appears we have too many supervisors at local events, how come?

First, we seldom schedule more than two. When we do it is normally because the event is either difficult to supervise (i.e. varsity football) or because we are expecting a large, potentially unruly crowd.

Some years ago the Board of Education wisely added to administrative contracts a number of "extra evening duties". As a result when you see the A.D., Superintendent, business manager or a principal supervising an event it is at no cost to the district. This type of administrative support is rare among Minnesota schools but it allows for administrators to stay in touch with their community and their students. Last year 7 school administrators worked a total of 200 evenings supervising games, speech events, concerts etc. Since an administrative position was cut this spring this load will be split by 6. Typically the district saves between $5,000-$8,000 annually because of administrative supervision.

At PHS we normally have two supervisors for the following reasons:

--- Participant injury, one supervisor stays with the participant.

--- Fan health issues, one supervisor handles police/ambulance.

--- Fight or alcohol issues, one supervisor to meet with police.

--- Half time entertainment, one supervisor to meet and organize guests.

At tournament events hosted in Perham you will often see more than two supervisors due to the fact that we are dealing with larger, more animated crowds and if in the event that our team is not playing we are dealing with two crowds that we don't have a history with. ISD 549 does not pay for event staff at qualifying tournament events, costs are paid by the section committee from gate profits.

How much do we pay for supervision when it is not one of our administrators?

We pay at two rates: 1) $50 for the lead supervisor, this person is responsible for cash boxes and depositing money at the bank after each event. He or she arrive at 5 for a 6 p.m. game start time, sets up concessions, ticket takers, and then monitors game events. At the conclusion of the evening they stay until the last student and/or fan is gone then deposits the money and is usually finished for the night at 9:30-10 p.m.; for this they are paid $50 or approximately $10.00/hour. 2) Our second supervisor arrives at game time and stays until the end of the contest or until any concern over poor behavior has departed the property. For this they receive $40 if they are not a school administrator.

For the past two years the MSHSL has required that a school representative attend qualifying tournament events when their respective team travels. Thus, when our teams travel, you will typically see the A.D. in attendance and he is responsible for the behavior of the team and crowd.

What is the annual budget for equipment?

Our budget number ten years ago was $12,000 per year for the Activities Department; it was dropped to $10,500 two years ago. Most of our purchases are safety related such as the National Federation of High Schools requiring changes in the design of gymnastics vaulting tables or the projected purchase of new hurdles to replace the ones purchased in 1963. So how do we stretch these funds to keep our children safe? Often times we seek community support through advertising; an example of this would be the new score boards installed last summer in the gymnasium, two local companies donated $5,000 each and for that we will print their name on the board for the life of the equipment.

Fortunately, we live in a supportive community. It is estimated that the new concession/press box/bathroom facility at Matt's Field would have cost an estimated $50,000 if we would have built it with district funds. Instead local contractors built the facility at no cost to the district (the only exception being grass seed!). Irrigation for our physical education and athletic fields was installed with funds from charitable gaming; new sound system in the auditorium was made possible by a gift from a local person, we started tackle football for 5 and 6th graders last fall and the greater community donated $8,050 to purchase equipment, the list goes on and on.

How many staff is required to manage the Activities Department?

Currently the Activities Department has one full time person, our secretary, Janet Seifert. Fred Sailer is the Activities Director and has been in that position for the past 11 years. His salary is split four ways since he also serves as the District's Director of Buildings and Grounds, Area Learning Center Director, and Community Education Director.

With growing concern over the district's fund balance, how can we continue to spend $539,000 on co-curricular activities?

When we take into account that our activity department generates between $85,000-$95,000 per year in activity fees and gate fees we reduce that cost to approximately $450,000 per year or about 3% of our annual budget. A local study conducted in May of '07 found that it costs approximately $250 to equip, provide instruction, overhead, and travel per athlete in grades 5-12. Given the fact that a new football helmet costs $149, it is remarkable that we can offer athletics at such a bargain. If we consider all activities (fine arts and academic co-curricular) the cost per participant is much lower.

Since each high school student generates approximately $7,000 for the district to educate if we were to drop swimming, cross country, speech, mock trial, or any other opportunity and as a result lose 1-2 students the cut would have been for naught.

For the past 4-5 years our programs have enjoyed wonderful success; from FFA to Knowledge Bowl, from golf to gymnastics. If we were having this type of success but experiencing low participation we would question the value of success for a few, but that is not the case, we have maintained excellent numbers even though class size is beginning to drop.

Students participate for any number of valid reasons; some simply want to belong, others are in search of a college education, most enjoy the regimen it requires to participate; whatever the reason, school activities keep kids off the streets, in positive environments and provides the rest of us with a quality of life that a small town thrives upon.

When we value excellence in all areas of our children with the tools they need to be successful in life. We all need to be champions for our kids whatever their dream; when we applaud the soloist, the left fielder, honor student, or Mock Trial's defense attorney we applaud all students.


Editor's note: Fred Sailer, Perham-Dent school activities director, can be reached at 346-6500. This article appeared on the opinion page of the Thursday, August 28, edition of the Perham Enterprise Bulletin.