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Willmar council questions community ed, rec partnership

WILLMAR -- For the past several months, the city of Willmar and Willmar Public Schools have been reviewing the partnership between the two regarding community education and recreation programs.

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Briana Sanchez / Tribune Leo Louwagie, left, and Jens Skalbeck participate in a Willmar Community Education and Recreation tennis camp at Willmar Middle School in this July 2016 file photo.

WILLMAR - For the past several months, the city of Willmar and Willmar Public Schools have been reviewing the partnership between the two regarding community education and recreation programs.

While the School Board approved an updated agreement in December, the City Council put the brakes on its possible approval, as there were questions and concerns about the Willmar Community Education and Recreation partnership agreement.

"This does not clarify to me what the city will do or what the school is going to do or what the middle of the circle is going to do," Councilor Audrey Nelsen said during the Feb. 5 council work session.

The school district may move ahead on its own with its community education functions if the City Council does not approve the updated agreement at its Feb. 19 or March 5 meetings.

The School Board accepted Community Education and Recreation Director Steve Brisendine's resignation last Monday. Because the district is concerned about filling that position by the time Brisendine leaves June 30, board members decided they will revisit the issue at the March 12 meeting.

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City Administrator Ike Holland said the agreement's purpose is not laying out responsibilities, but creating the opportunity for the city and school to continue working together.

"This is an agreement that establishes a working relationship, a partnership. It does not, and could not, go into some of the detail of operations," Holland said Feb. 5.

In 2000, the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Joint Powers Board was created, which established a centralized department for the city and school's leisure and community education programs.

"I was impressed about this document being in place, because a lot of communities do not share assets for recreation," Holland said. "This document allows for one-stop shopping for families when they want to play baseball, soccer, swimming," and other activities.

While both the school and city say a lot of good work has been done with the partnership, the time is right for a review, especially with Brisendine retiring.

"We very much appreciate the partnership that has been in place for 17 years. It was time to review and renew this agreement if we want to move forward," Superintendent Jeff Holm said when he attended the City Council's work session.

Holm told the School Board last week that he was "a little surprised and a little bit disappointed" at the council discussion. "I was quite surprised at how uncertain people seemed to be."

The council's discussion suggested members were unaware there would be changes in the new agreement, he said.

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"We have done numerous things on our part as well as in collaboration with Mr. Holland," Holm said.

One issue both the school and city wanted cleared up was the joint powers board, that really never had any powers.

"Their nature was advisory," Holm said at the council work session.

The new agreement creates a community education and recreation advisory committee, whose main responsibility will be to advise the staff.

"What we attempted to do was clarify and define the roles of the advisory committee," Holland said.

The new agreement says the city will responsible for "providing necessary facilities, services and employees to provide adult and youth recreation and athletic programs" while the school district will do the same for youth and adult enrichment activities.

"Frankly, I don't think the city park plan and development is the concern of the school board," Holm said. "Likewise, early child programs aren't really a concern of you the City Council."

The new agreement really doesn't change the responsibilities of the city or school district, Brisendine said.

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"That is what the bulk of this has always been," Brisendine said.

The School Board gave notice last July that the agreement should be revisited if the partnership was to continue. If the new agreement is not approved, he said, the city will have met its 12-month notification requirement to end the old agreement.

"We need to start thinking about filling Steve's position," Holm said at the Willmar School Board meeting, and the uncertainty of the agreement could make it harder to attract candidates for the job.

School Board Chairman Mike Reynolds suggested waiting through the next two council meetings.

"I'm comfortable with waiting to take action," he said. "They have two more opportunities to get it wrapped up."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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