Fort Madison officially votes to cut sports ties

Board votes 4-3 to let HTC, Central Lee agreements expire


FORT MADISON - A crowd of HTC advocates hung out at the Fort Madison Community School District parking lot in a post-game huddle of sorts after the FMSCD board voted to allow all HTC shared activities to expire at the end of the 2022-23 athletic calendar.

The board had put out a statement that it had decided to let all the district's shared athletic programs expire at the end of the calendar, but didn't hold a vote.

On Sunday night, the board issued another statement indicating that the agreements would be put on the agenda for Monday night's meeting.

After eleven people spoke up in favor of continuing the shared programs and one supporting the district's direction, the board debated for about 20 minutes, before board member Lois DiPrima called for the question.

DiPrima, along with board members Paul Wilkerson and Carol Ross, voted to continue the shared agreements for one year, but Board President Josh Wykert, Vice President Mio Santiago, Dianne Hope, and Brad Menke all voted to end the shared agreements, resulting in a 4-3 decision to let the shared agreements expire.

After the meeting, Wykert couldn't confirm whether the non-hosted swimming agreement with Burlington High School would be allowed to expire or not.

With the district saying Tuesday that all shared agreements would be allowed to expire, Fort Madison Activities Director Jeff Lamb said Monday night he couldn't confirm whether that program would continue or not.

The statement from the board on Tuesday referenced the Student's First Act signed into law by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds during this legislative session, as a reason for ending the programs. The district indicated that the law is "a dramatic shift, engineered by state lawmakers that will result in many state schools to reconsider their sharing agreements as private schools now have more resources to fund their own athletic programs."

Kollin Crompton, the deputy communications director for Gov. Kim Reynolds, issued an emailed statement Monday night to Pen City Current on the district's action.

"Implicating the Students First Act in the Fort Madison Community School District's arbitrary decision to end shared athletic programs with other area schools is unfair and misguided," Crompton wrote.

"In short, it's punishing kids. Funding provided through educational savings accounts (ESAs) are the primary purpose of paying the student's tuition.

"In no way do ESAs provide private schools 'more resources to fund their own athletic programs' as suggested in a written statement issued to the district on April 11."

Crompton said using current year data, there are 296 nonpublic school students living within the FMCSD boundaries which would equate to an additional $355,200 in funding for the district.

Fort Madison coaches Ryan Smith and Albert Schinstock both spoke on behalf of keeping the agreements in place. HTC students were able to wrestle and play baseball at HTC under the current programs. Central Lee was also able to wrestle under the current agreements.

Central Lee's agreement for wrestling was also among programs being allowed to expire.

Schinstock, the newly hired Fort Madison baseball coach, said both schools need the sharing agreement to keep baseball viable.

"The sharing agreement is wanted by many people from both schools and there is the other side where some may not want it," Schinstock said.

"As a coach who's coached at both FMHS and HTC, I can tell you, as a baseball program, we need each other to succeed."

He said the program has been successful since the two programs merged four years ago after five years of wins in single digits.

Smith, who's been coaching in the Fort Madison system for 25 years, said the decision isn't a good look for the district.

"This will be devastating to me and to the program itself," Smith told the board.

Nick Peitz, also speaking on behalf of the Crusader program, said the community "was bigger than politics".

Jim Platt said the district had a tough decision, but he commended them on making those tough choices. He reminded the board that during the 2018 softball season, HTC said they were no longer going to participate in the shared program.

“There was no discussion there either, so folks, don’t be pointing fingers, it works both ways,” Platt said. “There has to be discussion from both sides of the table before these decisions are made so the educated decision can be made for what’s best for our kids.”
Platt said they should throw all the sports into one community program.

“Don’t cherry pick what we’re going to offer based on, ‘we can do better at this, so we’re going to keep that'.”

After the meeting, HTC Principal and Chief Academic Officer Craig Huebner, said he was surprised by a comment from board member Brad Menke who asked Wykert if the district received any notice about a $10,000 offer from HTC to help with shared program costs before information was released by the board. Wykert answered “No”.

Huebner said the Holy Trinity’s board president did send Wykert an email before the information was released but said maybe HTC could have done a better job communicating the decision.

“We had to make sure we had the votes at the meeting before we could really let anyone know.”

He said now HTC will look at other options, first of which would be to see if there is enough interest internally to field their own programs.

“After that, we’ll reach out to other schools who have showed interest in us joining their programs.

FMCSD Board member Paul Wilkerson told the board before the vote that the board could look terrible if some of the impacts of the Students First Act aren’t realized. He also said the district is now looking at athletes who have identified as Bloodhounds despite coming from a different school, will now be wearing other schools' uniforms, and playing against Fort Madison.

“And I hate to see three or four years down the road we start losing students and sports. Who are we going to go to? Who’s gonna take us,” Wilkerson said.

“And more important than anything else is, I’ve watched HTC athletes and Central Lee athletes give up their identity to be Fort Madison athletes.”

Board member Carol Ross said it was unrealistic to think that HTC students would come running to Fort Madison to play sports because of the decision to end the agreements.

“I just don’t see anything we stand to gain by dropping these sports, I only see a downside.”

Dianne Hope said every student the district loses to Holy Trinity amounts to a loss of $6,400 for the district and the Student’s First Act opens the door to that lost revenue. Hope said that was too much of a loss to overlook at this point.

Board member Mio Santiago said the decision was very tough for him personally, but he had to vote for what he felt was the best interests of the Fort Madison district.

“The reason I was elected was to safeguard, grow, and develop our district, and the kids in our district. That’s where I struggle here.”

After the meeting, Wykert said the decision was terribly difficult.

“100% a no-win situation. It’s an emotional thing for sure and it’s taken its toll on every single board member and every single person sitting out here tonight. I appreciate all them coming out and speaking about something very important in their life,” he said.

“It certainly was not an easy decision to come to.”

Wykert is a member of the coaching staff with Ryan Smith on the FMHS football teams.

“It’s tested everybody’s friendship, but in Fort Madison, you stick together through the thick and thin. As a school district everything will be okay,” he said.

Wykert said he knows the state is watching what Fort Madison decided to do, but said that’s out of his hands.

“We’ve been on their radar for a bit now. Whatever comes, we don’t control, so why worry about it,” he said.

Fort Madison, Holy Trinity Catholic, Central Lee, sharing, sports, agreements, board of directors, meeting, news, Iowa, Lee County, Pen City Current


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