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School board holds off on paying MSHSL increased fees, hoping for more answers

The Albert Lea school board on Monday again opted to hold off on taking action about increased Minnesota State High School League membership fees due at the end of November as the board awaits more answers about the increases from the league. 

School districts across the state are facing significant increases in their membership costs, including two new fees tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Albert Lea, specifically, the costs have increased from about $4,999 to about $13,999, including two new $4,500 fees — one due at the end of November and one at the end of February.

The board at the end of September voted to pay the base $4,999 dues but then to table the payment of the other costs until they could receive more information from the league. They sent a letter to the league’s executive director at the end of September addressing some of the concerns and received a letter back stating the league had received a number of emails asking questions and seeking additional information and that it planned engagement sessions for school board members and administrators to pose questions in late October. 

School board member Kim Nelson said she attended one of the sessions last week, and the league said it planned to send out a document with frequently asked questions, but she had not received anything yet. 

“It’s kind of in their court right now,” she said.

School board Chairman Dave Klatt said the monopoly the league has developed is essentially making the board choose between parents and students. 

If the board decides not to pay the fees, the district would no longer be members and students would not be able to take part in any league activities. 

Albert Lea Activities Director Paul Durbahn said the district could host in-house events, but it would be a challenge to do so. Other schools would also likely not schedule a non-sanctioned event. 

“It would look drastically different,” he said. 

Durbahn said there are still many unknowns about the upcoming sports seasons, though last week the league provided districts with additional guidelines for wrestling, basketball and hockey. No guidance has been offered about the spring season. 

Nelson said she is a big supporter of these activities and wants to do what is best for students but the board also has a commitment to the community to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer funds.

“As a community, they owe it to us to answer the questions,” school board member Dennis Dieser said.

Superintendent Mike Funk said the district’s legal counsel reviewed the league’s bylaws. The bylaws are clear that districts have to pay their annual fees by the deadline, but there is nothing in them that states the organization can have additional charges.

School board member Jill Marin said she was concerned about the district incurring legal expenses.

Funk said Tuesday morning though the district would not receive the legal bill for about a month, the cost is likely to be about 1/10th of the cost of the MSHSL increase. 

The board has another meeting scheduled for Nov. 16, where it will likely again take up the issue ahead of the Nov. 30 deadline.