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DL Schools could lose $600,000

The Detroit Lakes School District could be forced to say goodbye to over half a million dollars in continued revenue.

Or not.

On Tuesday Gov. Mark Dayton will roll out his budget proposal, and local educators will be anxiously waiting to hear whether he adopts a plan to get rid of something called "extended time revenue," which are the funds allocated to larger schools like Detroit Lakes for after-school academic programs such as Targeted Services for children that need extra help.

Big funding changes?

A task force Dayton assigned to reform education finance is recommending the state re-allocate those funds to "basic skills revenue." That would mean the larger funds currently going to qualifying districts for after-school programs would be broken up and distributed to every school district in Minnesota to do with as they please.

The problem for the Detroit Lakes School District is that it has created an unusual, and lucrative, niche by providing those services to smaller neighboring school districts. It stands to lose about $600,000 a year if the task force recommendations become law.

According to Detroit Lakes School Superintendent Doug Froke, here's how the district's program works:

Because Detroit Lakes has an Alternative Learning Center, it qualifies for state funds to run Targeted Services (an after-school program run by teachers who provide extra instruction for students experiencing academic struggles).

Only schools with ALC's qualify. The funds, which are determined by the number of students participating, are also used for high school students who are missing a credit or two to graduate and need what they call "credit recovery" or for after-school independent learning time for high schoolers needing an extra academic boost.

Detroit Lakes has been running these programs for several years and has actually gained financially from them, as they follow the basic "per student" funding all schools get for enrollment. (Each student enrolled in a school attending normal school hours is worth $4,000 in state funding per year).

Since Detroit Lakes has many students still racking up instructional hours after school, they bring in more state funds than it takes to pay for materials and teachers to run it.

DL gets creative

But DL doesn't stop there. District leaders have been what Froke calls "creative" with their ALC status, in that they also started up these same after-school programs in several, smaller surrounding towns like Frazee-Vergas, Lake Park-Audubon, the West Central area, Browns Valley and now Morris.

"So what happens is, we'll hire and pay Morris teachers to teach the programs there, but then we'll get the ADM's (the average daily membership that translates into state funds)," said Froke. "So it's a win-win ... these smaller schools get extra academic support at no cost to them ... support they wouldn't otherwise see, and we get that revenue source."

That revenue source amounts to an additional $600,000 for the district.

Slipping through cracks

And since it's becoming harder and harder for schools to find funding, many students across Minnesota who benefit from these academic boosts may find themselves on the losing end of their districts' budget crunches if this change happens.

And although he says Detroit Lakes would likely keep its programs, other smaller schools might not.

"The problem is, that when you take that targeted services revenue and give it to everybody, what you're going to get is that many districts won't apply that to after-school programming," said Froke. "They might run that revenue into existing programming that they already have."

Linda Beilke is a Frazee teacher who helps run the school's Targeted Services, which they call "Hornet Connection."

She says although they have no hard data on whether the program helps boost test scores for the 125 Frazee students registered, she believes it does by targeting students who are struggling in a certain area and giving them more individualized attention critical to keeping up with the standards.

"I've seen it work wonders on students who maybe don't necessarily like to read -- we try to find a way to make it fun," said Beilke. "Or maybe a student doesn't understand a math concept because they might not learn that way, so we work with them to explain it to them in a different way. I think it's such a great benefit for them that I would hate to see go."

Marquart has vital say

But nothing is gone just yet; in fact, the task force's recommendation is still on the Governor's desk as just that ... one recommendation among many in the reform package.

If Dayton keeps it, Minnesota legislators will know by Tuesday when he rolls out his budget proposal.

On Wednesday, the House education finance committee will go over its portion of the bill and begin appropriations. That's where State Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, could become a key player -- he chairs that committee.

And although Marquart is waiting to find out whether Dayton even adopts that recommendation, he said he's been in touch with Froke and other superintendents regarding the issue.

"DL is doing some really wonderful things with the ALC program and we cannot jeopardize that," said Marquart, who is also a high school teacher.

Froke says to jeopardize these after-school programs is to not only jeopardize a good revenue stream for the Detroit Lakes district, but also the academic performance and graduation rates of many Minnesota students.

"We like what it does; we think it's significant; we think there's a need for it," said Froke, "and we think it plays a huge role in our students doing well."