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DL fees will rise to $65 per activity

Students looking to participate in extracurricular activities at Detroit Lakes High School next year will see a $10 increase in activity fees.

The School Board gave its approval during its regular monthly meeting on Monday.

Superintendent Doug Froke said that the increase is needed to help offset a $15,000 cost-containment assignment for the 2009 fiscal budget.

Froke said that during the board's Activities Committee meeting on April 25 that Mitch McLeod, activities director at Detroit Lakes High School, "had reluctance to eliminate any potential activities just for what they do for the kids" as an option to meet the shortfall.

Instead, Froke said that McLeod wanted to raise revenues.

Raising activity fees to $65 per activity per student will generate an additional $7,500 to meet half of the goal in one swoop.

"This has become an area of interest for school districts primarily as they address major cost-containment issues," Froke said of the popularity of activity fee increases. "They really have gone to the well so to speak in trying to get additional revenue.

Froke noted that the fee, even after an increase, would still be below the average of area school districts. On the high end, Fergus Falls charges students $200 per sport, while Alexandria and Brainerd are towards the low end of the spectrum with an $80 fee.

Families who can't afford the fee will still be able to have it waived in part or in full as circumstances warrant.

Another option Froke said was brought up was season passes for students and parents instead of the current 10 punch card system in place. Selling 100 season passes at $100 would bring in $10,000. A two-sport fall and winter pass is also on the table and revenue estimates ranged between $6,500 and $13,000 depending on the cost or the number of passes sold.

Other action brought up by the board included:

n Discussing increases in employees' health insurance premiums and another health care option for the upcoming fiscal year.

n The status of negotiations between the district and the Minnesota State Employees Association regarding a new contract for non-classified support staff.

n Approving extended special education summer programs in Early Intervention, Early Childhood Special Education, Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Developmental Cognitive Disability for this summer.

n Business manager Ted Heisserer said that health insurance premiums are due to rise 9.6 percent for the district. He said that the district is joined with 33 others in the Lakes Country Service Cooperative in a pool that helps keep costs down.

The change is the second-highest increase in the past five years, but is less than half of the 19.9 percent increase from the 2007 to 2008 fiscal years. Rates are not completely locked in as of yet as Detroit Lakes' rates depend on what other schools in the LCSC do.

n A new health savings account plan will be offered next year. A health savings account allows balances to be carried over from year-to-year, instead of benefits being limited in a given year. Balances are also portable and belong to the employee.

An additional benefit is that balances in a health savings account can earn interest or be invested for a higher return.

"The more our employees and their families will take care of themselves, this can pay off," said board member Dr. Thomas Seaworth. "As those health savings accounts build up, the employee keeps that, whether through retirement or otherwise. That's theirs forever."

n Negotiations between the district and the MSEA are at a standstill for now. Part of that is because the union representative has been on vacation. But also complicating matters is that both sides are in mediation in trying to reach an agreement on a contract that covers this school year retroactively and next year as well.

Vice-chairwoman Deanna Sinclair said that when Heisserer costed out the MSEA's proposal, it was an increase of over 30 percent. Sinclair said that when the district asked for another proposal with just the MSEA's priorities, it was still 21 percent above current numbers.

"We weren't seeing eye-to-eye yet, so we went into mediation," Sinclair said.

Sinclair added that after two mediation sessions, the number went back up to 27 percent.

"The net of it is that we've given them three different options and they vary between 10 and 10.8 percent for a total package," Sinclair said. The options range from a straight salary increase, just a benefits increase or close to a 50-50 split, according to Sinclair.

n The board unanimously approved the Extended School Year program for special education students. The district will provide six three-day sessions, with two held in June, July and August.

The ESY program is separate from regular summer school in that it's designed to help those students in danger or are experiencing academic regression.

"When you try to address regression, so many times the school districts will work the month of June," Froke said. "If you're addressing regression, it's there in July and August as well. So that (the program) has worked out very nicely."

Froke also commented on the state legislature as it enters the finals days of the current session. Currently there is a plan on the table for a $51 per pupil one-time payment to school districts.