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Jessica Ballou, jballou@forumcomm.com, Published January 28 2012

Bluestem funding hot topic of retreat

FARGO – Keeping the Bluestem Center for the Arts from defaulting on its loans for the next six months was the main topic of discussion at the Fargo Board of Education’s Winter Retreat at the Radisson here Saturday.

According to Board President Jim Johnson, Bluestem didn’t have adequate funds to make loan payments for the first time last December. Since Fargo Public Schools signed an operating agreement with Trollwood Performing Arts School back in 2007, Johnson said they have an obligation to make the loan payment if TPAS cannot.

Bluestem received a letter on Jan. 11 saying if they could not muster up $17,000 within 30 days, they would be in default. Johnson proposed that they forego their immediate position on Bluestem’s payment list for now, and in so doing, would allow Bluestem to pay back other accounts that are due with the $17,000.

Board member Paul Myers provided a list of proposals for the new operating agreement between FPS and TPAS that will be written up to avoid similar situations in the future.

Myers proposed that the role of Bluestem should be focused on fundraising for TPAS, like it was intended, and the relationship between TPAS and Bluestem should be strengthened. He also proposed that the Bluestem organization needs a more narrowly defined title and position.

Johnson said this is a scary dilemma for Bluestem, and in turn TPAS, since they have $2.1 million in outstanding loans and $2.74 million owed to FPS.

Donors are needed, but Johnson said donors aren’t as interested in writing checks for facilities or buildings that already exist, as opposed to funding for the expansion of programs at the school.

“(Myers) framed the best approach going forward from the district’s perspective,” Johnson said. “They need to unwind the default. I don’t think the default will go away … we need to let Bluestem refocus itself for future success.”

Board member Robin Nelson was the first to show concern with this new proposal.

“I’m not in favor unless it’s conditional,” she said.

“I’m sick and tired of this.”

An amendment was then added to the motion that a new operating agreement will be written and brought up to Bluestem before the end of February and both the amendment and motion carried due to majority rule.

After a brief break, the board members convened to address the topic of school climate.

Bob Grosz, assist superintendent, compiled some baseline data from students (grades 4-12), staff and parents about how they feel students in school are treated equally based on race, skin color, religion, sexual orientation and gender.

Approximately 5,000 students grades 4-12, 680 staff and 402 parents were polled for this survey.

The biggest red flag was for students of varying sexual orientations. Sixty-four percent of students polled felt students of different sexual orientation are treated equally, while 80 percent of teachers and 77 percent of parents felt the same way.

To help bridge this disconnect between student and teacher perceptions, Grosz says this will increase conversations held primarily in the schools themselves to prompt further examination and considerations.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jessica Ballou at (701) 237-7311