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Community Members Upset Over District's Decision to Install Field Lights

Tell us what you think about this issue by taking the poll below and sharing your thoughts in the comments section.

Wth word spreading throughout the city of the , community members are piping up on Patch.

The light installation is part of the district's plans to revamp the field. In late 2011, . Earlier in the year the board felt it didn't have sufficient funds to include lights in the project, however, after discovering rents for the new turf field would be nearly double than expected, a majority (4-2) voted in favor of using those rents to fund the lights. The pricetag for the lights is roughly $200,000.

However, the $200,000 is not coming from the district's capital fund, which is used for improvement projects. The rents generated are considered operating, or general fund, dollars. While operating dollars can be used for anything, with the district in a well-known financial pickle and struggling with an achievement, many argue that these funds should be used in the classrooms.

Scott Stone commented:

"Don't baseball games start at 4:15? Don't several Richfield parks have lighted baseball fields that could be used? Couldn't $200K be used on computers for the schools instead? or Arts programs? Or a few paid teachers assistants? With Richfield schools getting a failing report card, sports should be the last thing we spend money on."

While many may feel the lights are unnecessary, a lone reader came to the defense of the school board, citing multiple reasons to go ahead with the lights.

Steve Klopp countered:

"I would like to thank David Lamberger, Sandy Belkengren, Deb Etienne and John Ashmead for having a Vision for Richfield High School that includes a new baseball field with lights. To have one of the best 'on campus' ball fields in the State is a feather in the cap for Richfield. ... The ball field improvement project was started with a grant from the Hennepin Youth Sports Program for $275,000. In addition, Bob Slotterback and Todd Olson have forged a strong relationship with Richfield/Bloomington Credit Union who is donating $40,000 for a scoreboard."

Rumors of a possible special session to reconsider the lights are circulating, however, nothing has been announced by the district.

That said, where do you stand on this issue? Should the district be spending the cash in the classroom? Or is this a great investment in our schools?

Take our poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Teresa Kruse June 22, 2012 at 05:58 PM
In my opinion, using the unexpected rents from the football turf for baseball field lights is an unnecessary expense the District can ill afford. This is only year one, and although the rents were in excess of what the District expected, it is still only year one. I haven't seen or heard anything that states we have contracts to continue receiving higher-than-anticipated rents for the duration of this 10-year period. I believe the excess funds should be ear-marked for the football field as originally voted on and approved by the School Board. When the replacement value is on hand, then use excess rent revenue to cover other costs. If the Board feels it is prudent to use those funds now, taking the chance we will not have the funds available for the replacement field, then those excess funds should go to one of the District’s more pressing issues, such as providing tools and resources to reduce the achievement gap and continue to build a high-quality academic program in the Richfield Schools.
David Haines June 22, 2012 at 06:06 PM
How late do baseball games usually go?
Veronica Bach-Dowd June 22, 2012 at 06:21 PM
I personally called all the High Schools in MPLS and only one have a baseball field and it doesn't have lights, not even Minnehaha Academy. They all use the city parks/fields. Why do we need to spend money on lights when we have to say good bye to our amazing teachers. also I think this project will confuse people when the time comes to vote and try to pass the referendum.
Megan Cassidy June 22, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I believe these funds can be used to more positively impact a greater number of students by not installing baseball lights. As a self-regarded free-spirited entrepreneurial kind-of-gal, I truly appreciate the many benefits of capitalism and the potential to increase revenue from field rental and baseball games, however, I believe that it is best not to confuse our school district's priorities and engage in any type of financial risk-taking especially at this time when money is tight for the majority of Richfield residents. I really appreciate all of the attention and the school board's willingness to re-examine this issue because to me it means that both board members and residents are carefully examining every cent spent for our school. As both the parent of a Richfield student and a tax payer I want to make sure my daughter receives the best education possible while using the money we pay in property taxes wisely. Thank you to the Patch for letting us all express our opinions and I am truly appreciative of the respectful process I have witnessed regarding this controversial topic. I think it speaks well of our community that we can have a strong disagreement and work civilly to work it out.
Jodi Olson June 22, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I feel that the district should not be spending money on anything that is not absolutely necessary, which baseball lights are not. I also feel that this will not make it harder to pass a referendum which MUST be passed this fall. I feel it was incredibly shortsighted on the school boards part for these reasons and I am extremely disappointed in the reasoning and responses I have received from the school board members who have answered by emails.
Jake Rappe June 22, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I remember similar arguments when the University was soliciting funds to build a new football stadium. Sports are indeed a luxury and the classroom is a necessity, but sports are also a source of intangible qualities and lessons that are important to a high school student's development as a person that are not found in a classroom. For example, fair play, leadership, and sportsmanship; but not the least of which the fantastic memories and friendships one gains by playing sports. Because, let's face it, not everybody is blessed with the talent to play collegiate, let alone professional, sports. I wouldn't trade my memories of high school sports for the world, even the unpleasant ones of losing games. And for those who do have what it takes to play on the next level, proper facilities are needed to nurture that talent to grow. Of course I would love to see the academics and arts of the school district want for nothing, and I know that investing in top of the line sporting facilities pays dividends in the classroom.
Teresa Kruse June 22, 2012 at 08:51 PM
David, one of my son's was in the varsity program this year and the games end around 6:00 PM.
Kevin Maleck June 22, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Jake, I believe the vast majority are right there with you. The benefits from sports programs are indisputable. They build morale, physical fitness, teamwork, comaraderie and they keep kids from getting in trouble with too much idle time on their hands. On the other hand, In my 43 years in Richfield with 10 years in the public schools, I do not recall lights on the baseball field hampering the ability to play baseball, primarily because it is played during days with longer daylight hours. That aside, let's look at a simple exercize... The lighted fields at Donaldson park rent for $20 per hour or $100 for 8 hours. If we just stick the $200,000 (ignoring the $59,000 in interest and extras) in a coffee can and use it for rental of a full 10 home games per season, we could pay for 200 YEARS of baseball in all it's lit up glory. Stick with me because this gets even more luxurious... Say that instead of sticking it in the coffee can, we invest in a money market or bond that yields only 1%. That would provide $2,000 per year, enough to pay for the gloriously lit up field AND hot dogs, cokes and popcorn for the parents and siblings and it would do so INDEFINITELY. 1,000 years from now, we could still be eating hot dogs and watching baseball in the glow of metal halide lights. That sounds like baseball nirvana...
Kevin Maleck June 22, 2012 at 10:03 PM
But wait, there's more! The full baseball calendar year has only one game that does not start at 4:15 for either home or away. That game is scheduled for May 17, 2013. Let's be generous and assume we could wrangle more out of the ordinary start times for the conference and play 4 games in artificial light. The coffee can would then pay for 500 YEARS of rental, OR 100 years and we could send the players in limos. Imagine what we could do with the money market. OK, perhaps I wax a bit sarcastic but the idea of flushing that much cash away for just a few evenings a year is awe inspiringly ridiculous when we have other needs. One more point I would like you to consider is that by utilizing the public parks even just a little, we help fund those public parks and all they have to offer our youth whether they play baseball or not.
Christine Passeri Maleck June 23, 2012 at 12:12 AM
We are living in an uncertain economy. We did not pass the referendum last November and painful budget cuts were made. To prevent deeper cuts the board voted to decrease the district's fund balance to 2.5% from the district's policy of 4-8% against the recommendation of the Fiscal Planning Advisory Committee. The fund balance is the district's safety net for unexpected cost increases. For example a few years ago when gas prices shot up and the cost of bussing students and heating buildings increased dramatically. The fund balance can keep the district from going in the red or having to borrow money and pay interest. Last year in the League of Women Voters forum for school board candidates we were asked what we would do with an unexpected windfall of money. I said that just because we have the money does not mean we have to spend it. I stand by that statement. I think if the money is not used to maintain and replace the football field (I believe that is where any money made from the field was supposed to go) the money should be used to restore the fund balance, decrease the cuts made this year, or to prepare for the possibility that the upcoming referendum does not pass.
Christine Passeri Maleck June 23, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Additionally, a recently elected board member was sitting next to me at that forum and responded that they would "ask the teachers". I wonder how many Richfield teachers would suggest lights for the newly renovated baseball field.
Jimmy Campana June 23, 2012 at 03:19 AM
As a Richfield parent AND the spouse of a Richfield teacher I feel spending money on LIGHTS for a baseball field would be totally irresponsible! When teachers spend much of their own money to purchase supplies that are lacking in the building, or make monthly trips to the "free store" because there is no budget for tape, cardstock, and even copy paper is being rationed, the lights can wait (and from what I hear, they aren't even going to be USED very often!). There are so many ways we could benefit our students with that amount of money...it's a shame to see 32+ students in a small 5th grade classroom with 1 teacher and no paraprofessionals, but that is the situtation at more than one of our elementary schools this fall. Additionally, I know that they have excellent staff development in Richfield, but when a unique opportunity like this year's Immersion Conference will be available in St. Paul and the Immersion School, Richfield's "gem", cannot even afford to send its teachers to it, even the ones who have been asked to be presenters, it's a pretty ridiculous argument...that lights for a baseball field could REALLY be more important!! Sorry, but you just can't convince me!
tim pollis June 23, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Jake-the new field (from a SWEET grant) creates a great facility, way better than "proper." Lights create a facility that stands out as way nicer and more lavishly appointed than nearly all HS baseball fields on campus in the metro. Sports are awesome. This isn't a "jocks vs. nerds" argument and no one here is saying HS sports are unworthy of reasonable facilities and funding. This is an argument that points out that 3/4 elementary schools are getting bad grades from the state, the District is cutting back everywhere, we found some money and it is being heaped on a luxurious finishing touch when a nearly free lights option exists 1.25 miles to the west. If there is a study (a real one, not a made up one) that shows HS athletes who play under the lights perform better on standardized tests and have better achievement in any area than those who play during daylight hours, please share with me. I'll install 'em and never let them turn the lights off.
Diane Howard June 23, 2012 at 03:46 PM
I am in disbelief by Steve Klopp's statement, "To have one of the best 'on campus' ball fields in the State is a feather in the cap for Richfield. ... ". There is no argument that could convince me that spending money on lights for a ball field would be more important than putting it toward improving our kids' education in Richfield. Lights? Really? Let's talk utilization...This is Minnesota, not Florida, and the high school ball fields get used how often compared to utilizing the funds within the classroom? Moreover, high school events are generally arranged for afternoon games, so that would mean these lights would be used how many times during the 2+ months of the high school season? I'm pretty sure we're talking single digits. It is even more appalling to note that we already have fields with lights in Richfield that could be used, should the need arise to schedule (or reschedule) a game at night. To the School Board members, please listen to all of us residents and community members of Richfield (all of us whom you represent), not the small group for whom this seems like a personal agenda. Any monies in the operating budget should go toward exactly what it is intended and most needed: improving education within our schools, not improving seasonal athletic facilities!
Brie Shultz June 23, 2012 at 08:38 PM
While the last article had plenty of quotes/info for the against-the-lights part of the school board, I hardly saw any quotes/info from the pro-lights part of the school board (i.e. "I'm going to check in with Deb Etienne as well, but she's on vacation now"). That article seemed a bit one-sided. Unlike most of my fellow patch commenters, I think I'll wait on waving my pitchfork and torch at the school board until I get both sides of the story.:P
David Haines June 23, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Who's got his pitchfork ready? This guy.
Barb Olson June 23, 2012 at 11:26 PM
I think that the big issue is $200,000 which the lights are coming from are coming from the general fund which is money that can me used for teachers, supplies, etc. I worry that the new board didn't understand the difference between the 2 funds or have forgotten how cold the school was this winter because there wasn't any money in the general fund to pay for heat. Maybe they should ask the public who voted for them what they think. This needs to be fixed and the board needs to meet again immediately and figure out a way to make this right.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 24, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Hi Brie, Deb Etienne was a source for that story, I meant I was going to see if she had more to say in regards to the funding source that was happening in the comments section. Todd Nollenberger and her had differing views. I think both sides were done justice, however, I think all the comments in opposition of the lights that followed cast a different light on the article.
Amy June 24, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Richfield is also cutting most assistant coaches. This could be avoided easily by spending a tiny chunk of this money to hire them back. Yes, we need teachers, paras and supplies but I cannot imagine any team in Richfield functioning that well with only one coach...
Julie Opitz June 24, 2012 at 10:02 PM
My understanding is that lights were included in the original grant. And that the grant was entirely parent-driven and did not involve ANY Richfield dollars. I'd like to know why the lights weren't funded by the grant in the first place. I also believe the grant that improved the quality and SAFETY of the Lyndale baseball field was also parent-driven and involved no Richfield schools dollars. Should the schools not provide any financial support for improvement of the baseball facilities? They have invested significantly in other athletic programs' facilities. I'm told there are 600-700 Richfield kids that play in baseball programs and I've heard the comments of other Metro communities' parents as to the dilapidated condition of Richfield schools' baseball facilities. An upgraded facility with lights would be a feather in Richfield's cap; one of the things the schools seem to struggle with is image, and attracting and retaining new families and good students. There are likely intangible benefits even if the lights seem "luxurious." If people have such serious objections to lights, why did they wait until now to air them? Wasn't this on the agenda? And I am appalled at people who say that sports are the last thing we should spend money on! Many of our Richfield athletes are greatly improved students BECAUSE of the athletic programs! I don't think this is the best forum for such debate, and I support the decision of the board. I will also support a referendum.
Kevin Maleck June 25, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Julie, First, I respectfully disagree that this is not a good forum for this discussion. I think it is an excellent forum, allowing people to take time in expressing their thoughts. Second, when was the last time you were able to view an agenda prior to a board meeting? Third, the majority of the 600+ youth in Richfield baseball programs are registered in non-profit programs not affiliated with the school system. They use city park facilities - outstanding by any standard. Lincoln park, Roosevelt park and Donaldson park are some of the finest fields in the metro area. Lastly, if lights on a field that is used primarily during the day and even then, only a handful of days per year is a "feather in our cap", imagine what better MCA Math test scores would be!! Why, it would be as if were wearing bejeweled crowns made of solid gold. I take time out of my work week one day a week for one class period to tutor math in the middle school. I see first hand the impact that small amount of assistance can have on scores and ability. Imagine what a para-professional could do with more hours every day of the week. I believe in the benefits of sports. I do not believe this is the time for lights. I am glad to hear you will be supporting the referendum as I will be one of a handful who will be working hard to sell it to the community. We would love to have you on board to help us in the effort. You may email me directly at kmaleck@damico.com for more info.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 25, 2012 at 02:24 PM
@Julie - From my understanding the lights were included in the bid from the company that would be doing the work on the field. The grant the school received was roughly $275,000. When the bid came back at more than that amount, the board was charged with deciding which features it could afford. Originally it was decided not to include the lights in the development plan because of lack of funds. However, after it was discovered the the rents for the turf field would be far more than expected, the board decided that would be a good funding option to supplement the grant.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 25, 2012 at 03:32 PM
From a discussion on the first article about Deb Etienne's comment about the field lights being capital funds, I contacted her to see if she had a response. She said she did in fact understand the difference between capital and operating funds. Here's here response: WOW, there has been a lot of activity on this issue while I was out of the country. ... There must have been some misunderstanding. I never said (or meant to say) that the money for the lights was capital money. If I said it incorrectly, I apologize. I do understand the difference between the 2 buckets of money.
Dan Jegtvig June 26, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I wish to clarify some misinformation being circulated about the proposal to install lights at the high school baseball field. The suggestion by project opponents that the installation of lights will come at the expense of teachers and classroom size is pure fallacy. In truth, no funds already earmarked for the general operating budget will be touched. The lights project will cost $37,000 per year for seven years. The funds will be drawn from the revenue created by rental of the football field; a scenario which would NOT have been possible had the board not boldly voted to install artificial turf on the field last year. Like the turf project, the lights project will not only enhance the baseball field aesthetically, but create a revenue stream from rentals. This project as been on the agenda since the April 23 board meeting. It has since been discussed at two additional board meetings and a dedicated open facilities study session. This proposal at no time flew under the radar, nor did board members Nollenberger or Easterwood raise any concerns or objections along the way. Academics will always be a top priority. However, when there is an opportunity to enhance the school's facilities to a point where other communities come to Richfield and spend their money for their use, I am going to support it. It is time for everyone to join together in exercising common sense and form their conclusions on fact, not half-truths or innuendo. Dan Jegtvig
Teresa Kruse June 26, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Some additional clarification: 1) "No funds that had been earmarked for general operating budget will be touched" - true, but the Board cut $875,000 from the District budget in February 2012. 2) "The lights project will cost $37,000 per year for seven years" - in these cuts, the Board eliminated 12 athletic coaches at an expense of $44,000. Who will coach our children on this new, lighted field? 3) "The funds will be drawn from the revenue created by rental of the football field" - the Board voted on and approved using ALL rental funds to replace the football field in about 10 years. There is currently no contact that will guarantee excess rental funds for the next 10 years. This could be a one-time windfall. 4) "This project has been on the agenda since the April 23 board meeting" - this project was discussed at the April 23rd board meeting - as was the fact the district had "no revenue stream". No motion to move forward on the project was discussed. There was no further mention in any board agenda or meeting minutes until the June 11th meeting. Yes, there is a lot of misinformation out there. What I have listed here has come directly from the Board meeting minutes. Please, review those notes yourself - you can find them on the Richfield Schools website.
Kellie Scales June 26, 2012 at 05:38 PM
While the money for the lights may not have been "earmarked" as money for students (i.e. money that is "taken away" from students), it certainly could be used to purchase and sustain BASIC needs of the classroom. In a district that is cutting money from the basic operating budget (i.e. cuts to the classroom, cuts in staffing, cuts in the Media Centers, cuts in the paraprofessional budgets, cuts in curriculum, etc.) based on a failed levy last fall, it is irresponsible of the board to purchase an item that is not a "need", but a "want". Look around - only four metro districts have a baseball field with lights - Monticello, Chanhassen, Minnetonka and St. Francis - all districts that also have better test scores than Richfield. Academics should be the priority of the school board. I believe that a commitment to academics and the classroom will have more families moving into Richfield (as well as staying in Richfield schools). When there's enough money to sustain the proposed student/teacher ratio of 22.5 (Deb Etienne's proposal), when there's enough money to fill the RDLS library with books, when there's enough money to buy the necessary amount of paper at STEM for the school year, when there's enough money to keep all of the teachers in classrooms (no layoffs), when there's enough money to fund the necessary number of paraprofessionals to manage recess at elementary schools, etc., etc., then we should look at the "wants" of the district. Kellie Scales
Kevin Maleck June 26, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Dan, To characterize what is being circulated as misinformation is incorrect. I believe the vast majority of opponents are fully aware that the excess revenue was not earmarked or included in budgets for teachers, or any other general operating expenses. The fact of the matter is that the funds are just unexpected income in excess of budget. The crux of the matter is that we now (and not guaranteed for the next seven years) have extra money in the coffers and a decision to be made on what to do with it. It is money in the bank. That is not a mystery. What opponents are upset about is that the decision was to spend it on a luxury instead of a need and we do not believe that is prudent in these economic times and facing levy referenda. I guarantee that if the referendum fails this fall, it sure would be nice to not have that $37k committed to attracting moths. Then we have the comparison and gloating over the turf decision. I was involved in actively trying to sell the referendum last fall and the turf topic was a considerable headwind. There was outrage that the district would spend that kind of money and then ask for more, even though those funds came from the capital improvement bankroll from the sale of Lincoln Hills. At least we had the fact that those funds could only be spent on facilities to come back with. Additionally, that project had the benefit of an actual business plan and support from the administration. The lights project has neither.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 26, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Hello all. A special session has been called. Here are the details: http://patch.com/A-v6xT
Julie Opitz June 27, 2012 at 04:02 AM
I did NOT say that this is “not a good forum,” I said that this was not the best forum. The best forum is at the school board, in an established public process with those who know the facts and make the decisions. I have been able to find board agendas on the district website. Under the “General” dropdown, select “School Board.” At the left there is a link to board agendas. I have had children in Richfield baseball or softball every year for the last 19 years, so I'm very familiar with the city facilities. My husband coached for most of those 19 years. There have certainly been instances of limited availability over the years, and another lighted field would only expand the opportunities, not only for our own children but possibly also to generate revenue, as has been done so well with the turf. I am no stranger to Richfield classrooms; since 1994 I have spent many hours in Richfield classrooms as a reading tutor, computer lab & publishing center volunteer, Art Masterpiece presenter and class parent/chaperone. I do know that help in the classroom can make a difference. I seriously doubt, though, that $37,000 a year will have significant impact on overall test scores. Lights provide opportunity—for expanded playing time, for potential revenue for our schools, for pride in quality facilities and for Richfield’s image as a quality place. Lights or no lights, it is unfortunate that the objections and debate are happening AFTER the board's decision!
Malcolm Moore June 27, 2012 at 10:15 PM
I agree the money should not be used irresponsibly. I would like to know how the funds could be applied to the many students who are not proficient in reading and math. Additional staff is certainly helpful as long as they are dedicated to the children who really need the help. It is time to get the achievement gap issue addressed in a meaningful way that gets measurable results in the short and long term. We cannot keep accepting modest improvement.

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