TOWER-SOUDAN— New fees that will now be required for community education offered through the St. Louis County Schools are raising concerns about the viability of some of the popular programming …
TOWER-SOUDAN— New fees that will now be required for community education offered through the St. Louis County Schools are raising concerns about the viability of some of the popular programming that has been offered here in the past.
For years, the local community education program has offered a number of free activities, like the Family Fun Night, which has been particularly popular. Tower-Soudan’s community education coordinator Leone Graf is worried that participation could fall sharply as a result of the new fee requirement, potentially all but eliminating the program in Tower.
According to Graf, many of the students who have previously gone to the event won’t even consider going if it costs money. She said she tried charging a fee for the Fun Night the first year she took over as the local coordinator and participation fell from the typical 30-35 kids to just five. Graf is currently working to find a way around the five-dollar minimum fee requirement, particularly for the Family Fun Night.
“I feel like I’m letting the community down if I can’t make this work,” she said.
Graf said classes that charge fees are typically cancelled due to low or no participation. Right now, the only fee-based classes that attract much interest are senior driver’s safety courses and occasional estate planning classes. Craft classes for kids have been popular, but Graf worries attendance will vanish once higher fees are required. In the past, many kids were able to take the craft classes for free if they were enrolled in the after-school enrichment program, but now they’ll have to pay fees that are likely going to be prohibitive.
Community education programs at other schools in the district have charged minimum fees all along. Yet, many of the families whose children attend the Tower-Soudan School are low and moderate income, which makes even a small fee unaffordable.
Community Education Director Denise Parson explained that all components of the community education program are funded by the district’s community education levy and the participation fees the schools manage to collect.
“When Community Education expenditures exceed revenue received, the district’s general fund makes up the difference,” Parson stated in an emailed response to questions. “It is not in the District’s best interest to make up the difference for over-spending in the community education fund. So, the expenditures need to equal revenue received in the fund.”
Tight funding for the program in Tower-Soudan is part of the issue, since the community receives substantially less funding than other school attendance areas in the district. In the most recently completed school year, Tower-Soudan’s community education budget totaled $28,408. That’s well below the next closest school, North Woods, which received $41,495 last year, and it’s barely a third of the $74,894 budgeted for South Ridge.
Graf said that’s just not enough to cover the coordinator’s and enrichment teachers’ salaries, let alone the offered programs.
Former T-S community education coordinator Nancy Larson said prior administrations had tried to keep Tower-Soudan’s funding more or less equal with other attendance areas, but she said it appears that’s now changed based on the conversion of the Tower School to an elementary facility only. “We may be only half a school, by no choice of our own,” she said, “but we’re still a full community.”
And when it comes to community education, Tower-Soudan is one of the few programs in the district that operates year-round, in order to give summer residents an opportunity to take part in some of the offered events and classes. Larson notes that those summer residents pay a substantial portion of the school district’s levy, particularly the cost of repaying the 2009 bond measure and restructuring under which the district closed Tower-Soudan’s middle and high school. “You could argue that we’re subsidizing all the other schools,” said Larson.
Some other popular programs, like Chimpy’s weekend skating parties, won’t be run through community education, which means they can still be offered at no charge. They can still be listed in the community education bulletin that comes out three times a year, under a listing for “community happenings.”
Larson, who first eliminated some of the fees when she served as coordinator, notes that community education is one of the few things that brings people together in a positive way. It provides the framework for a successful school, which leads to successful students who want to remain a part of the community in which they grew up. If community ed. is important to you, the Tower-Soudan program is currently seeking one volunteer to attend a Nov. 7 advisory council meeting. If you are interested in attending or would like more information, call Leone Graf at 218-343-3744.