After a lengthy discussion Monday night the Faribault Public School Board agreed to move forward with researching cooperative athletic sponsorships.  Representatives of the district will meet with officials from the schools they have cooperative athletic sponsorships with to see if they can make those relationships stronger.

Board Chair Chad Wolff stated very clearly the matter was only up for discussion. Most of the discussion surrounded the cooperative with Bethlehem Academy where 13 sports are open to students of the private school to participate in at Faribault Public Schools.  Middle and high school sports are included.

Faribault Public Schools Activities Director Keith Badger was joined by Superintendent Todd Sesker, Board Members Wolff and John Bellingham in a meeting with Bethlehem Academy Activities Director Ed Friesen and representatives of the BA Board of Directors on February 20 of this year.

Badger reported there are about a thousand cooperative sponsorships in Minnesota.  He was tasked with researching how many are in the Big Nine Conference.  He said Winona has an agreement with Cotter and Mankato Loyola works with Mankato East High School.

At one point Jason Engbrecht told his colleagues he was on the fence even though he saw the great experiences his daughter had playing soccer with kids from BA.  He said, "I'm going to be really upfront and blunt about why I feel this way.  I've been on this board 11 1/2 years and I have had to try and pass six levies and bonds in this community.  I struggle with the fact that I've just received a lot of emails stating how important these relationships were and what bonding experience it was and how I should be thinking about supporting every child in the community.  All of that is exactly right. "

"But during those experiences in trying to get support for our schools I have probably done about 70 presentations around this community to try and garner support.  I have had virtually every community organization in this community offer their support for things like levies because they support every child in this community."  Engbrecht added, "The most difficult room I have ever been in was the BA room. We probably have some BA families watching right now (the meeting was on YouTube)  and they more may not even be aware of this fact."

He went on to say, "I think there needs to be some real soul searching of that community.  Because I am hearing in email after email how important it is to support  every child but I have not seen that from that community.  It gives me pause.  It's the only reason I would ever even consider why we should keep these coops because I have not seen the product of that.  When I hear that we're building relationships that should show up when we need it most in the Faribault Public Schools.  It shouldn't be just lip service when it's fun to watch your child play a game.  Then it's fun and it's easy."

Engbrecht added, "That is what I have seen over the years.  I get support when it's fun and it's easy, but when it comes to the hard stuff they haven't been there for all of the kids of this community.  I've struggled tremendously with that and it is the only reason why I find myself on the fence on this."

Student Alli Velander gave her perspective while playing hockey, "Without them we probably be next to impossible to have a Faribault girls hockey team at all because of our low numbers.  BA girls make up about half of our girls hockey team.  I'm sure girls hockey isn't the only sport that would maybe struggle to make a full team without this coop.  I think this coop not only brings Faribault Public Schools together but it brings the whole town of Faribault together.  I don't know it I would have ever met these girls I have such good friendships with now on the team if it wasn't for the coop."

Former school administrator, board member Jerry Robicheau simply stated, "Any dissolution of the coops, the only one that gets hurt are the students."

Superintendent Sesker had a suggestion for the board, " I really don't think that this is the time to cut off coop ties.  I think it's a time to visit folks to see what the underlying issues are that is creating some of this controversy.  I think that would be a wise first step personally."

Board member Carolyn Treadway said, "Conversation and discussion is always beneficial. Whether this ends in renewal of the coop agreement or whether it doesn't we owe ourselves, our schools, our community open dialogue about it.  With the understanding that everybody comes forward as proponents of this public school system."

Dr. Chuck Briscoe, the President/Principal of Bethlehem Academy provided a letter to the Public Schools Superintendent and Board ending it with, "I would ask that you think of all the students as you dialogue about possibly ending a COOP that has been in place for thirty-seven years.  In the words of Paul Wellstone; "we all do better when we all do better."

"Please take a step back and ask yourself what the ramifications will be to the community if you choose to dissolve a long-standing agreement that has provided positive opportunities for students to be members of your athletic teams for several decades."

Briscoe adds, "Thanks for reading and we pray that we have the opportunity to sit around a table and search for common ground to help all students."