Brainerd School Board hesitant to cancel summer parks and rec programs
The youth baseball, softball and T-ball programs normally begin in May and run through July. But if they were to happen this year, it would be later on in the summer.
The fate of the Baxter Parks and Recreation 2020 summer ball programs is still unknown, but not definitely canceled.
Members of the joint powers board from the city of Baxter and the Brainerd School District, who run the summer programs, discussed the matter Tuesday, April 14, and agreed to recommend the cancellation of all events in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Baxter contracts with the school district’s community education department to run the summer recreation programs.
But when school board members took up the issue the next day, they couldn’t all be convinced to cancel the events this early.
The youth baseball, softball and T-ball programs normally begin in May and run through July. But if they were to happen this year, it would be later on in the summer. Half of the six school board members are holding out hope for a shortened six-week season in July and August. Charles Black Lance, Tom Haglin and Sue Kern voted against canceling the season during the board’s meeting Wednesday, April 15. Reed Campbell, Ruth Nelson and Bob Nystrom voted for the cancellation.
Haglin said he feels it is too early to cancel events all together with how rapidly the situation is changing. Black Lance agreed, saying he wants to continue holding out hope for at least an abbreviated season.
“As a parent who has three kids that are actively part of the summer recreation program, we value it, we lean on it,” Black Lance said. “We count on it for socialization for our kids.”
Nystrom said he agreed with those sentiments, but reminded board members the recreation program is fee-based, and with fewer registrations likely, the district cannot afford to support it with deficit spending.
Community Education Director Cori Reynolds and Superintendent Laine Larson reviewed with board members some of the reasoning behind the recommendation to cancel. First of all, a portion of the community education staff — including the parks and recreation coordinator — were among school district employees laid off for the time being to cut costs. Some may be rehired July 1 when the new fiscal year begins. Reynolds said that would only leave a skeleton crew to plan and coordinate the ball programs. And the city of Baxter has not yet hired its summer maintenance crew, she added, and does not know when it will do so, meaning none of the fields are groomed. Even a July start, Reynolds said, would be tough to pull off.
“As a parent of a little baseball player, I’d share the devastation of this action, and it is early,” Reynolds said. “But I don’t see another way, knowing what the backend prep work for these programs looks like.”
Larson added a point about the peak of COVID-19 cases, which department of health officials said could be as far out as July. In that case, Larson said she would hate to see so much work put into events that might not be able to happen anyway.
“And so, when we talked about it, as much as nobody wanted to bring forth this recommendation, I think everybody felt that it was really the only option that we had for this summer,” she said.
Black Lance asked if there was any discussion about partnering with other area baseball and softball associations, like the Brainerd-Baxter Fastpitch Softball Association, to see if they could help.
Reynolds said something like that might happen naturally anyway and agreed to facilitate communications with those groups if it comes to that.
“That seems like a fair and appropriate role that community ed could play,” she said.
With that option on the table, Larson said the motion before the board Wednesday was to cancel the normal schedule and format of the Baxter Parks and Recreation summer program for 2020. Leaders of community education already decided to suspend activities until at least July 1.
But with the motion failing to pass with a tie vote, uncertainty still stands, and Reynolds reminded board members all the work will fall to the limited community education staff still on hand.
Haglin and Black Lance thanked Reynolds for her continued hard work, especially through the past few difficult weeks.
The cancellation measure will go before the Baxter City Council Tuesday, April 21.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .