North Branch Area Public Schools School Board members, school district officials and more than two dozen members of the North Branch Area Athletic Association and other residents met Aug. 22 to discuss concerns the NBAAA has about sports activities in the district.
Dennis and Barb Hensch, president and vice president of the NBAAA, said throughout the meeting that the district hasn’t been very willing to accept parent and volunteer involvement to enhance the activities experience for students in the district.
The NBAAA also had more concerns, which were detailed in an agenda its members drafted before the meeting.
Some of those agenda items included:
• How donations are used.
• Concern about the high school track and pole vault pit.
• Not having enough money for football coaches.
• Equipment stored outside being damaged by mice.
• Gym floor conditions.
• Grounds maintenance.
• School district not soliciting donations from local businesses.
• Lack of advertising revenue.
District officials addressed these and other topics raised point by point, and then allowed members of the NBAAA to comment after their presentation was complete.
Activities/Community Education Director Brett Carlson said the district does allow community members to volunteer for teams, but coaches have ultimate discretion about whether or not they want volunteers.
“If they don’t want someone, they don’t want someone,” he said. “That’s just the way it has to be. It’s all about what that coach wants for their program to give those kids the best experience possible.”
Randi Johnson, the district’s finance director, fielded the question about how donations are collected and utilized.
“I think there is some concern about donations and how those donations are used,” she said. “The policy of the School Board is the activities director has the ability to accept donations and has the discretion to work with you and accept donations and commit to using funds in a particular way. We’re very careful about making sure we do that.”
Next, Johnson noted the high school’s track was redone in 2010, but padding for the pole vault pit got bypassed during that upgrade.
“Now that we’re aware that a new pad wasn’t purchased at that time, we’ve got one on order,” she said.
Johnson explained the funding for coaches in NBAPS’s football program is about middle of the line when compared to other schools in the Mississippi 8 conference.
“We’re not way below and we’re not way above,” she said.
Johnson said storing track equipment in areas separate from the schools is a reality the district doesn’t have the space to remedy at this time.
“We don’t have enough space indoors to store that equipment; we just don’t,” she said.
Carlson spoke to concerns about gym floor conditions.
“We’ve been talking about it since 2010 – it’s part of our capital plan,” he said. “It’s about $120,000 for a new gym floor, so it’s expensive. I get it, the floor’s not perfect, but I’ve been in a whole lot worse places coaching for 10 years.”
Johnson said she’s had people want to volunteer to help with grounds maintenance, but accepting that help could put the district at financial risk if an accident were to happen.
“Our insurance company has pretty much told us that we’re completely liable and really discouraged from doing that,” she said.
Superintendent Deb Henton said she was confused about why the NBAAA would say the school district isn’t accepting money from local businesses that want to donate to sports teams.
“I don’t know exactly what that means, because every single month I see the donations that we get,” she said. “(Businesses) give us a lot of money, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Henton added that advertising revenue in the district could definitely be better.
“We had signed a contract with a group called School Media — they were one of the first in getting the advertising in the schools — and that was a failure,” she said. “They did not follow through on what they promised to do. The ads didn’t come on schedule, and they didn’t pay us. They got a letter from our lawyer recently saying ‘we’re not going to do business with you anymore and you owe us x amount of dollars.’”
Even though that venture didn’t work out as planned, Henton said the district’s advertising committee is always looking for new ways to get businesses to work with the school district on advertising.
Dennis and Barb Hensch and the other parents and community members who attended the meeting said they put a lot of time, money and effort into working with the school district on enhancing North Branch athletics, and they noted sometimes parents are afraid to voice concerns when they have them because of perceived repercussions.
“Many people are afraid to speak up because they think they’re going to take it out on our kids,” Dennis Hensch said.
Resident Myron Schmitz said the school district should focus on building relationships with community members to raise more money for activities.
“If you don’t build that bond, you’re never going to get a levy passed,” he said. “I vote for (levies), but sometimes I hold my nose when I do it because some of the things we’ve been told is that ‘If you don’t do it, this is going to happen,’ and we stop believing some of that. And that’s unfortunate. We don’t always trust.”
Resident Paula Schoeberl said she feels district officials might have misunderstood the NBAAA’s intention — the group doesn’t want to criticize district staff, it wants to work with them in any way possible to make activities better in the district.
“We’re willing to do this,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, Henton said she and other district officials would have more meetings with the NBAAA to address the issues they brought forth during the meeting.