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Officials worry about mixing RESP, Succeed 2020 finances

Area school superintendents are concerned that grant money set aside to help junior and senior high teachers, as well as their students, is also supporting the everyday expenses of the organization that provides education, programs and tools to their faculty.

The Roughrider Education Services Program shares office space and staff with the Succeed 2020 grant, and officials are worried that intertwining the costs too much will devastate the agency when the grant ends.

The RESP Administrative Board met Tuesday at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge -- exactly a year after Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced the recipients of the Succeed 2020 grant -- to discuss the budget of the organization now that Dickinson Public Schools has withdrawn from the regional education association.

Succeed 2020 is a five-year grant from Hess Corp., an oil-based energy company, that provides funding for teacher education, programs and tools for students in grades seven-12. Much of the RESP staff works on projects that fall under Succeed 2020 and regular RESP services, depending on which grades they service.

Under the proposed 2013-14 budget, operating costs such as rent and office supplies are paid for through a 31-69 model, where 31 percent of the cost was from general RESP funding and 69 percent came from the grant.

Most staff, with the exception of the director, is paid 50-50 from Succeed 2020 and RESP funds.

"I'm looking at sustainability," said Kevin Nelson, superintendent of Hebron Public Schools. "If the Hess grant goes away, how are we going to pay for office rent and all that stuff? After five years, I see a problem."

As proposed, without the grant, RESP is more than $7,000 in the hole.

"Part of the issue is that we set a fee and we don't ever increase it," RESP director Amy Axtman said. "Whatever per-district fee is there has been there for several years. Inflation happens, people get raises, rent goes up, but the fee stays the same."

In correlation with the budget, members discussed how to fund RESP going forward without DPS dues.

A flat fee plus $200 per teacher was discussed, which was similar to a previous model. Recently the organization took up a pay-to-play payment model, which required schools to pay for the sessions and services they would utilize. But that caused uncertainty in funding, Axtman said.

"The stability of a set fee would be very much appreciated as we develop programs," she said.

Superintendents also questioned RESP reimbursements to schools for things like travel and substitutes when the dues they pay go right back to them.

"It's counterproductive for my district to send you fees and then for you to pay my teachers and subs stipends," John Pretzer, superintendent of Scranton Public School, said during Tuesday's meeting. "On $100, we're paying $125. I would just as soon pay for my own subs and my teachers are under contract. ... To trade Peter for Paul is costing Peter more money than when he gives it to Paul and then he gives it back to Peter."

The ideal solution to RESP's budget issues would be DPS rejoining the program.

"I certainly would welcome Dickinson back into our programs," Axtman said. "I would love to work with them."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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