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WCIC seeks approval of what might just be its last budget

WILLMAR -- For more than a decade the West Central Integration Collaborative has worked to keep kids in school and to increase understanding between cultures.

When the Willmar School Board approved its annual budget on Monday, though, director Idalia "Charly" Leuze told them, "This may be the last time we have to ask you to approve a budget." The total budget is about $595,000 in Willmar.

Two state task forces are studying integration collaboratives across the state, and legislative leaders have said they would like to see the funding used in other ways. The legislative session is under way, but the future of integration programming probably won't be known until spring.

The West Central Integration Collaborative has served Willmar and seven nearby districts using a budget made up of 30 percent local tax levy and 70 percent state aid. Willmar, the district with the highest minority population, receives a total of $129 per student in state aid for the collaborative. Other districts receive $92 per student. Those amounts have stayed the same for the last decade.

The other districts are Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, BOLD, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, MACCRAY, Montevideo, New London-Spicer and Renville County West.

"We've done a lot of good things," Leuze told the board.

In what could be the collaborative's last year, she said, she plans to continue providing the same services they have.

One of the primary goals of the collaborative is to keep all students in school through graduation. School success coordinators have been placed in member districts to work with young people who are at risk of not graduating. The coordinators' services are available to any students who need them.

Other services include the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools program to teach Spanish to young students, and the after-school SMART Club for homework help and tutoring.

The Latino graduation rate has risen steadily SMART Club began. "Just the graduation rate is amazing," and points to the successes of the collaborative, Leuze said. The Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools program teaches Spanish but also helps kids learn how to communicate with people in other cultures, she added.

Leuze said she continues to hope that state officials will treat integration programs in urban and rural areas differently. "Rural doesn't have the resources that the metro does," she said. "Our programs certainly help our kids."

Leslie Kelly, the collaborative's assistant director, said more than a dozen full- or part-time employees work in Willmar's schools. That includes two full-time school success coordinators at the high school, bilingual paraprofessionals and translators.

The funding from the West Central Integration Collaborative fits in with efforts to give all students the opportunity to succeed and to close the achievement gap, Kelly said.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the district receives personnel services worth about $400,000 from the collaborative.

"It would be a bad thing if we lost funding," Kjergaard said. "It would be a bad thing across the region, not just for us."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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