Pressbox View: School district needs a co-op philosophy
The Rochester School Board and administration need to talk about co-ops. They need a philosophy.
Are co-ops to be done away with, to maximize the opportunities for Rochester public school students? After all, if a family opts to send its children to private schools, it can't expect to have the same extracurricular activity choices as those in the public schools.
Or are co-ops to be kept, because the district feels a wider duty to the entire community by providing a way for private school students to participate in activities for which they don't have enough numbers to field their own programs. (And coincidentally have fuller rosters for the Mayo, JM and Century programs).
Honestly, either is an understandable and defensible approach. The latter has been the apparent philosophy in Rochester for a long time, which isn't to say a change is wrong.
But any change should be for a reason that is what is best for kids.
Not because some co-op program "won too much." Or some people in high positions dislike Lourdes. Or there is a battle to keep families from choosing private schools.
All of those are rumored reasons for the proposed change.
The stated reason is that the co-ops were just temporary devices meant to help a public school program with light numbers of participants, and meant to sunset when the numbers improved.
But most of the co-op arrangements have not fed large numbers of athletes from private to public schools. For the record, that's the case in the vast majority of Minnesota's co-ops between public and private schools. That reflects the predominant lean toward the second philosophy mentioned earlier.
So, are there other reasons beyond this stated one?
Hard to tell, since the school district has gone all-in on being, shall we say, very reticent? Though a Facebook post by a pro co-op parent quoting of the key figures involved seems revealing; the parent said he was told Lourdes was "choosing to play the poor me card all the time" and should "offer their own programs."
We have evidence that regarding this issue, people connected to the district were told not to talk to the media about it. This is, to be frank, a high-water mark in a trend in which the Rochester public school leadership has in recent years become very tightly controlled in its dealings with the media.
There was a brief time a few years ago when it appeared our writers would, for example, need to ask for permission to talk to a player or even a coach and wait for approval from the central office. Clearer heads – including Century activities director Mark Kuisle and Mayo AD Jeff Whitney – pointed out that this was an unreasonable policy that would certainly reduce the amount and quality of coverage of high school sports, and that the athletes would be hurt by it.
I am told that the policy with most district staff continues: they are warned that unauthorized interviews with the media can be considered grounds for dismissal.
I concede there are situations in which stonewalling of the media by a public entity is necessary. To protect privacy of individuals. To ensure fair trials. To not compromise physical security.
I'm having a hard time imagining a back story to the topic of co-op sports programs that would justify a complete ban on those involved – coaches, ADs, other administrators, players – talking to the media.
I hear some folks are unhappy with the P-B's reporting of the issue. I think when you choose not to give your side, that's a very likely result. Most of the individuals involved – right up to Superintendent Munoz – have had enough dealings with the media over their lengthy careers that they know when you quit talking to the media, they don't quit pursuing the story. If anything, it makes reporters more determined to dig hard to see if there is some important reason the public should be aware of for what appears to be a cover-up.
Many years ago, not long after Gary Addington joined Rochester Public Schools as supervisor of athletics, he asked to meet with me in person to discuss a sensitive situation. He explained that he knew if he didn't tell me the background, we would probably do a story that would pose a problem for all involved, including the athlete and the P-B.
"I need to trust you," he said. After hearing the background, I agreed with his assessment and we avoided the topic.
Obviously, that type of process was not attempted in this situation.
The good news is that at the May 3 meeting when the co-op change was first proposed, a suggestion to take an immediate vote was halted by Munoz, who said the topic should have more discussion and input from the public. That occurred May 17, with public comments before the board meeting.
It should continue.