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Consultant: Joint Community Education and Recreation Program most robust he’s seen

Laura Morales, right, helps Adult Basic Education student Diana Alvarado, right, with an assignment Wednesday at Jefferson Learning Center. Adult Basic Education is one of the programs offered through Willmar Community Education and Recreation. Tribune

WILLMAR — A consultant says the Willmar School District’s and City of Willmar’s Community Education and Recreation Program is the most robust, broadly-based and expansive program he has seen in 24 years of examining other cities’ community education and recreation programs.

Former school superintendent Dr. Roger Worner of Roger Worner Associates Inc. of Cedar told the City Council on Tuesday that his firm has conducted more than 400 studies involving more than 1,000 school districts during the last 24 years.

Worner said his firm examines among other programs the community education and recreation program. Generally it is the school’s community education program and does not involve recreation, which is either nonexistent or is handled by the city.

“I’ve never seen a more robust program ever in any of the studies we’ve done including 75 to 80 percent of the studies that we’ve done in metro-area school districts,’’ Worner said.

That’s not saying there aren’t facets of the Willmar program that are not done bigger and better by somebody else, he said.

But when the wealth of community education and recreation programs entwined and overseen by the school district’s and city’s joint powers agreement are considered, Worner said, “this is the most robust, broadly-based expansive program with the greatest number of facilities for a school district of this size that I’ve ever seen. That’s a compliment to all of you.’’

In 2000, the school district and city entered into a joint powers agreement to merge the school’s community education programs and the city’s recreation programs and services to establish, in effect, a one-stop shop for community programming. Both entities hire one executive administrator who reports to the council and school board.

Last year, the school district enlisted Worner’s services to study WCER’s effectiveness, efficiency and cost effectiveness. Worner looked at the organization, participation, finances, programs and services, and facilities.

Between Aug. 1 to about Nov. 26, Worner interviewed WCER staff, school staff, city staff and members of the Willmar School Board, Willmar City Council, and members of the WCER Joint Powers Board, and studied budgets, by-laws and numerous WCER documents. From that came a 47-page report.

Worner presented the report to the School Board last November.

He recommended a specific role and function be developed for the Joint Powers Board, and that the board be assigned participatory responsibilities for strategic planning, needs assessment, program evaluation and program publicity.

He also recommended:

- The directors, coordinators and board members be engaged in developing a strategic plan.

- The billing process between the city and school district be simplified and standardized.

- The joint powers agreement be modified to provide reasonable notification to the school if the city intends to reduce its fiscal commitment to the program.

- The program examine processes and procedures for training youth supervisors to perform their duties with greater effectiveness and involve the school’s coaching staff in orienting and training volunteer coaches (of younger athletes) to ensure those youth are acquiring background skills necessary to function later in junior varsity and varsity level programs.

- Support future endeavors which will result in providing additional quality gymnasium and support spaces.

Council member Ron Christianson thanked Worner for the report and for recognizing that the department is running so well. “I think most of us know that it’s a top-notch program and we’ve got an excellent leader here for that program,’’ he said.

Regarding the finding that the city needs more gymnasium space, Christianson asked Worner if the city could consider possibly renting space at churches that have gymnasiums.

Worner said he only saw the major parks and did not inspect churches. In most instances, he said, facilities owned by churches or small organizations tend not to provide the type of range and integrated services that one would hope to have in a facility that was specifically designed for community use.

“In interviewing a large number of people, this was a major issue in their mind. It is a groundswell of the number of people we were interviewing. The people I interviewed said we needed another gymnasium,’’ he said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Denis Anderson asked what happens now.

Worner said City Administrator Charlene Stevens, School Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard and WCER Executive Director Steve Brisendine will further discuss the study. He said Brisendine is planning a series of steps including a strategic planning process with the joint board.

“There is and will be planning steps in the process to go forward and make these things become, hopefully, a reality,’’ said Worner.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150