Some southern Minnesota high schools remain steadfast in their refusal to pay the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) thousands of dollars in COVID-19 "installment" fees.
The MSHSL, facing a significant budget shortfall due to the cancellation of revenue-generating state tournaments, introduced the new installment fees in in September 2020. The fees were described as a "short-term" fix to help weather the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
The fees themselves were split into two payments, with the total amount varying based on school size. The smallest schools were asked to pay $1,000 in total, with the largest schools (enrollment above 1,233) facing an $11,000 bill.
These installment payments were in addition to the regular annual membership dues and activity fees schools pay.
Immediately, many schools pushed back, as the Star Tribune reported at the time.
Now, more than half a year later and with the second installment payment due many weeks ago, some school districts have opted to simply not pay.
Albert Lea High School, for example, received a notice from the MSHSL on April 6, saying it owed $9,000 immediately and the school is "no longer in good standing." The letter also noted that membership in 2021-22 requires paying off any past due membership dues.
"Albert Lea Area School’s is concerned about MSHSL imposing additional Covid Fees on member schools when they do not have the authority within their bylaws to do so," Mike Funk, superintendent of Albert Lea Schools, told Bring Me The News.
James Hecimovich, superintendent and 7-12 principal for Kingsland Public Schools, has been pushing back against the MSHSL publicly for months. He sent a letter on Dec. 20 to Sen. Jeremy Miller, asking for help and calling the new fees "disproportionately inequitable" for smaller schools. He described them as "blatantly unjust," and "a form of taxation without representation."
Kingsland High School's installment fees totaled $5,000. They also received a notice on April 6 noting the school was no longer in good standing.
The MSHSL has argued these added fees are needed. In a normal season, about three-fourths of the organization's operating costs are covered by profit from the state tournaments. With those events not occurring as normal over the past year, the MSHSL faces a significant financial shortfall.
The MSHSL, in an email statement to Bring Me The News, pointed to its 35% reduction in budget during the pandemic, adding:
"The League continues to work with member schools in the area of membership fees and is appreciative of the 90 percent of member schools that have met all membership responsibility and continue to partner with the League in our mission to provide co-curricular opportunities for students"