The Cloquet School Board has approved the addition of five contracted extracurricular positions to support sports in need of more coaches, as well as Link Crew, a program that helps ninth-graders transition into high school.

Cross-country and Nordic skiing have both seen between 90 and 100 kids participating under two coaches, Activities Director Paul Riess told the board Monday, July 8. Riess found that most schools of similar size have two or three coaches for far fewer athletes in those sports.

“From a management and safety issue, that's a 50-1 student-coach ratio,” Riess said of the Cloquet teams. “It's amazing how they keep track of who's showing up to practice.”

Cross-country and Nordic skiing will each add a second assistant coach during the 2019-20 school year for a total of three coaches. The assistant coaches will be paid a salary of $1,633, which is 43% of the head coaches' salaries.

Baseball and softball will each add an assistant coach as well. Typically, each sport has one coach for each level, such as varsity and junior varsity, plus a varsity assistant, Riess said. This is true for basketball, hockey and volleyball.

Baseball and softball, however, currently only have one coach for each level, or two contracted coaches. As a former baseball coach, Riess has found this can put coaches in difficult positions.

“The two worst injuries I've seen were at baseball games were where I was the only person there,” Riess said. “It's a pretty tough position to be in. I have to take this kid to the hospital, but what do I do with the other 12 kids here?”

The additional JV baseball and softball coaches will be paid a salary of $2,696, or 59% of their respective head coaches’ salaries.

The proposal also asked for a Link Crew adviser, a role that has been previously taken by the two high school guidance counselors. Assistant Principal Tim Prosen said the counselors can no longer meet that demand, with more students to counsel and growing mental health needs.

Whoever fulfills the advisory position would be paid a salary of $2,118.

The board voted unanimously to approve the addition of the five positions; Ted Lammi and Jim Crowley were absent.

How will the additional positions be funded?

In response to adding the positions and increasing expenses, Superintendent Michael Cary wanted to make sure the district supports ways to bring more funding to those positions.

“Mostly because we just went through budget reductions this last spring and I wanted to make sure we weren’t cutting things in the classroom for the sake of adding things in activities,” Cary said.

The board discussed some of the possibilities for bringing in more revenue to help cover the expenses of the new positions that Riess, Prosen and Principal Steve Battaglia included in the proposal.

No action was taken at Monday’s meeting regarding how the district would do so; the board just discussed possibilities for increasing revenue that will likely be discussed at a future meeting.

Since fall sports season is approaching, Riess said it’s probably too late to increase activity fees, but they could look into changing gate prices going into the upcoming school year.

Board Treasurer David Battaglia pointed out that increasing gate prices, which Riess said are on the lower end, at sports events could help prevent Cloquet families from having to absorb all the costs of increased prices.

“When our families have access to family activity passes, it's not a real problem to raise fees on the visitors visiting us,” Battaglia said. “We pay them when we go to their places.”

Board member Duane Buytaert, on the other hand, suggested that increasing activity fees could be the safest route to ensuring people aren’t shut out from accessing activities, since there are avenues in place families can take who can’t afford paying those fees.

For example, students on reduced lunch pay only half of the activity fee, while students on free lunch pay only a quarter of the fee.

“As coaches, we never want the fee to be a reason you wouldn't join a sport,” Prosen, who coaches track and field, said at the meeting. “Paul is so good about that. We have options to help out kids. That's a message I put out there all the time: Fee cannot be an issue. We're going to help you find a way.”

Buytaert requested that Riess return before the school year starts with a history of different activity-related fee prices as well as data on what schools of similar size charge.