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Editorial: MSHSL must provide more information to schools

For these last two issues, the Albert Lea Tribune, in partnership with the Austin Daily Herald, has been looking into the fee increase imposed by the Minnesota State High School League.

The MSHSL is no different from anybody else that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, having lost a substantial part of its revenue when the state was shut down last March. The shutdown eliminated many of the remaining state tournaments while cutting short the Minnesota State Girls’ Basketball Tournament.

This loss in revenue put the MSHSL in a tough spot, and in September it announced a 300% increase in fees for member schools.

Since then, as the stories have pointed out, schools have been asking questions and in some cases pushing back. It’s understandable that the MSHSL would look for ways to generate a broken line of revenue, but what we’re questioning is how the process is being undertaken.

When the fees were announced, it was hoped that the MSHSL would generate revenue to the tune of around $3 million.

In a Star Tribune article in late October, Executive Director Erich Martens was quoted as saying, “The majority of member schools haven’t said anything.” He went on to say that many have voiced support for the move in recognition of their situation.

But in many schools, this is contradicted by a lack of transparency that is leaving some schools in the dark. Lyle Public Schools Superintendent Jamie Goebel indicated as much, voicing concerns at not knowing what the MSHSL’s plans are for either the future or the money they are getting from the increase in fees.

“They were facing financial hardship before this, and COVID just made that worse,” Goebel said of the MSHSL. “We have to review to see if it’s equitable or is it going to be put on us again in the future. Is this a one time thing? What have they done to change their budget? They shared a little bit, but they haven’t given us very many details. We’re looking for the why and what does this mean for us in the future.”

“It is something that we’ll have to discuss. The MSHSL hasn’t really told us how they’re going to correct this and there is no guarantee that they won’t tack on more fees to us in the future,” said Pacelli principal Kane Malo.“It’s really unfair with us being (a co-op) with Lyle. We’re playing one football team, but we’re paying double the amount for the sport. Both of us are paying the same amount at Austin High School.”

To that end, Lyle and Pacelli, which co-op in most sports, have held off paying the COVID-19 fee until they can get more information. For essentially one sports program, both schools are required to pay separate fees. Neither are alone in these concerns.

Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk said the school board sent a letter with its concerns to the league, but the league’s response failed to address anything from the original letter.

“Our board is struggling with this because they don’t want to take away from the kids and not have them be able to participate in the state high school league activities, but at the same time they’re trying to weigh the principle of the matter,” Funk said.

What’s more concerning is that per capita, smaller schools will pay more than larger schools. Goebel calculated that Lyle would be paying about $35 per student, while bigger schools would be paying just $7 per student.

A potential fix would be a proposed model of per-student payment.

COVID-19 hasn’t been fair to anybody. That is made clear each day the Minnesota Department of Health releases its daily report. The MSHSL has some incredibly difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks and months, but they have to do more to make sure schools are involved and can follow along with the process.

These are the institutions that will be instrumental in helping the MSHSL stay on its feet and continue to offer the athletic and academic showcases so many have come to love and look forward to.

Schools need to feel that they are part of the fix and leaving them with so many questions will only hurt future efforts to balance what the MSHSL is trying to do.

We support the MSHSL and hope to see state tournaments again, but we also support and understand the issues small schools are working through to maintain on their end.

More information and more communication is vital in this process.