NEW ULM - The District 88 Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution to authorize the superintendent to formally withdraw New Ulm Public Schools from membership in the South Central Conference effective at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
The resolution also authorized the superintendent to formally join the Big South Conference effective at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
The Big South Conference is the name for a new high school league in the making, comprising schools now in the Southwest and South Central Conferences. The merger would increase the number of schools for New Ulm to play to 13, from the current six in the South Central Conference. The change is motivated by a need to achieve cost and scheduling efficiencies and ensure the vitality of programs, say officials.
Four of the South Central Conference school have voted unanimously to withdraw from the South Central Conference and join the new Big South Conference, reported Superintendent Jeff Bertrang. Fairmont and Blue Earth voted last week, and St. Peter and St. James voted last Monday. Waseca was scheduled to hold a vote on Thursday, the same night as New Ulm.
The merger has raised concerns among supporters of the New Ulm hockey program who worry that insufficient opposition at the JV level may weaken the varsity program. While the merger would not significantly change things for most sports, hockey would see "a double round robin effect." New Ulm has traditionally played schools to the east and filled the remainder of its schedule with games against non-conference but similarly-sized programs, explained officials. Under the proposed change, however, it would play schools to the west, many of which do not have JV programs.
Bertrang reported that he and Athletic Director Chad Eischens discussed the issue with counterparts from other Big South schools. The officials agreed to change the proposed by-laws, specifying that such issues, in any sport, would be addressed by an ad-hoc AD committee. Since then, four ADs, including Eischens, have met and agreed to schedule hockey jamborees and tournaments next year, providing extra-opportunities for JV games. The games will include conference schools but may also be extended to include others.
The board approved a financial audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, prepared by CliftonLarsonAllen.
The auditors gave the school district a very positive review, praising its financial reporting, internal controls, compliance with state and federal regulations, etc.
The auditors also provided a brief summary of substantive findings:
The district had revenues of approximately $20.3 million and expenditures of approximately $20.2 million last year.
Its total general fund (operating) fund balance decreased from approximately $2.3 million to roughly $2.2 million.
The unassigned fund balance dropped from about $1.5 million in 2012 to roughly $1.3 million in 2013. The money that remains would fund 26.5 days of operation; the recommended number of days is 30-60. The reduction is, in part, a result of a board decision to minimize program cuts by spending down the fund balance and did not draw strong censure.
District spending on core instructional programs compares favorably to spending in similar-sized districts.
Board negotiators met with the support staff team Oct. 30, reported Board Chair Duane Winter. It was the third session to work on the 2013-15 contract. After a back-and-forth discussion, the support group stated they wanted to go to mediation, summed up Winter. Since then, a mediation request has been filed, and the support group would like to meet again. The next negotiation date is set for Nov. 26.
The other union contracts were settled last year.