A large group from the Laporte community attended last week’s school board meeting to express their displeasure with the possibility of co-oping sports with Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School.
Even though Laporte’s School Board was still in the discussion phase of whether or not co-oping was the right avenue, that didn’t prevent rumors from swirling in the community that a decision was imminent and the board already had made their decision.
A special board meeting was set for next Monday night, where the board is expected to make some decisions on cuts and the possibility of co-oping with WHA in sports.
In late March, the board held a special meeting to discuss deficit spending. No decisions were made at the meeting; the board told the administration to gather more information. Reducing coaches, the number of paraprofessionals, reducing the number of bus routes from six to five, going with a bus service, reducing the monthly Laporte Newsletter and co-oping with WHA in some sports were ideas passed around.
Superintendent Kim Goodwin was given permission to talk with Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School administration about joining them in some sports. The board did not like the idea of co-oping in sports, but said everything was on the table.
Sitting about $352,000 in the red, the board said there are cuts that need to be made.
At the April 8 meeting, the board saved the co-oping in sports for the final item on the agenda. Goodwin explained to the nearly 70 people in attendance that something needs to be done to reduce expenses, adding that nothing has been decided yet.
Positions of two paras and a special education teacher who will retire at the end of the school year, along with a part-time special education teacher position, will not be filled, which will save the district more than $100,000.
The WHA School Board is also discussing if co-oping is an option. If they decide to proceed, they will put together a proposal that Laporte’s Board will either approve or deny. If the co-oping option fails, Laporte’s Board will have to look at eliminating teachers, programs and technology.
“These are ugly cuts. They are hurtful and we’re going to feel it,” Goodwin said, adding that no decision that will be made tonight, but it will soon.
At this point in the meeting those community members were allowed to ask questions or make comments. Some thought the idea of co-oping with WHA would force students to move to a different school district, while other brought up a sports fee, which Laporte doesn’t have.
Jim Day Sr. said when Laporte last co-oped with WHA in football, it was a failure. “Co-oping is out of the question. The kids hated it and the parents hated it,” the former board member said.
That occurred during the 2010-11 seasons, when Laporte no longer had the numbers for a varsity team. After two years, WHA decided not renew the agreement because it would have moved the Wolves from Class A to AA.
Laporte has sent other athletes to WHA to play on the golf teams, which has been successful.
Bryan Kerby said the board needs to weigh education, people and sports. “You have to look at everything. Make sure everything is on the table.”
Rich Majcin, WHA’s varsity softball coach, said he was in a similar position back when he was a coach and athletic director in the Chicago area and a school decided to co-op with his school in sports. “Once you lose it you might not ever get it back,” he said.
Other cuts the board is looking at are the dean of students, the technology coordinator and two elementary teachers.
Lisa Price, one six board members, said nobody want to cut sports. “We all think [they] make us stronger as a community, as a school. Where do we go to get back financially?” she asked.
Goodwin said they are looking to the community for help. “We’re looking for ideas,” she said.
It costs Laporte about $237,000 each school year for every sport. That includes salaries for all coaches and the activities director, paying officials and statisticians, costs of uniforms and equipment, and transportation.
Gus Forseman, a Laporte graduate who also has a son in sports at Laporte, said he is favor of co-oping with WHA, a comment that did not go over very well with some. “We have been struggling at sports for a long time. When we are more concerned about cutting sports than teachers, we have a problem.”
The football team’s only win over the last several years was by forfeit during the 2016 season. The girls’ basketball team was winless this last year while the boys’ team won only one game. The baseball and softball teams each only won one game last season, while the year before they combined to go 4-25.
The volleyball team, which fundraises to pay for uniforms and equipment, is the only sports team to have winning seasons over the past several years.
The board also approved a motion to increase the local option revenue from $300 to $424 per pupil starting in the 2019-20 school year, which is an additional $37,500 from the state.
The monthly newsletter sent to about 1,200 households in the school district, was cut from nine publications to four starting this fall. This will save the district about $3,000.
The board also looked at contracting out bus services, but that would cost the district more so that is no longer an option.
The board also discussed eliminating Chrome Books for elementary students, which would save the district about $40,000.
In other school business, the board:
Approved the Teachers on Call contract.
Tabled the school board vacancy discussion until the next meeting or until the state Legislature finishes its session.
Accepted the resignation of LouAnn Dierkhising, an elementary and early childhood special education teacher, effective at the end of the school year. The board also approved the administration advertise to fill the position.
Approved the Northwest Service Coop’s bid for the group health and hospitalization insurance.
Set the date for the staff luncheon for May 28.