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Consultant praises Willmar Community Education and Recreation

WILLMAR — The Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department got high marks in a consultant’s study of its organization.

“I have never been in a school district that has a broader base of programs and services and collaborative opportunities,” said consultant Roger Worner in a report to the Willmar School Board on Monday afternoon. Worner is a professor at St. Cloud State University.

Worner’s report came during a board workshop meeting at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

The board’s next regular meeting will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 9 at WEAC. Board member Linda Mathiasen, who presided over Monday’s workshop, said the Dec. 9 meeting would include a discussion of the board’s Nov. 12 closed meeting.

Willmar’s city recreation efforts and the school district’s community education efforts came together through a joint powers agreement in 2000.

Worner praised the combined department and director Steve Brisendine for the quality of its programs. If the department has problems, they most likely stem from some vague language in the original joint powers agreement, Worner said.

His recommendations included developing a clearer description of the role of the Joint Powers Board and developing a better method of reconciling finances between the city and school district.

Worner also suggested the organization take part in a strategic planning exercise.

He also discussed the need for more gymnasium space and support facilities to support the “robust” enrollment in the department’s many programs.

The Willmar School District has appointed a task force to study the district’s facilities. A report from the group is expected to go to the School Board in January.

The department also oversees the city’s 35 parks, park shelters, an aquatic center and numerous trails.

Willmar Community Education and Recreation provides early childhood education programs, adult basic education programs, recreational and enrichment opportunities for children and adults.

Some communities around the state may have larger single programs, Worner said, and some have limited joint powers arrangements.

“I’ve never seen one as broad as this one, which makes it extremely complex,” he said.

The staff deals with the complexity well, he said, and the department “keeps moving on like a juggernaut.”

Brisendine told the board that he was not surprised by most of the findings.

He said it can be difficult to work with both city and school budgets, as the entities have different fiscal years.

The board discussed how to proceed with rewording parts of the Joint Powers Agreement. Brisendine said much of the agreement has worked well for nearly 15 years. He suggested having city and school attorneys start out with the original agreement and propose changes in just a few areas.

Joint Powers Board members told him in interviews that they lack a clear definition of their role, Worner said. A strategic planning exercise and a better job description could make the board a stronger advocate for the department, he said.

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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