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Policy would limit academic competition funding

July 29, 2009

Nicolet — A proposed Nicolet High School policy that would limit funding for national competitions in debate, forensics and science fairs will return to the Curriculum Committee for revisions.

Because of budget constraints, District Administrator Rick Monroe presented the policy to the School Board for discussion Monday night.

"The policy supports competition but does not sponsor students at a national level," Monroe said.

Monroe said few students qualify for that level of competition but the cost of transportation, lodging and a chaperon can be significant for those who do.

Monroe said other North Shore conference schools limit students to the state level, for the most part.

"If we didn't have budgetary restraints, we would not be having this conversation," said School Board President Laurel Bear, who said she agreed with the policy from a budget standpoint but because the activities are tied to academics felt the policy needed to be discussed with teachers and staff.

Shifting cost to participants

The school would not prohibit students from attending the competitions but would not fund or provide chaperons for them under the policy, as proposed.

On its face, the policy would seem to even the playing field between athletics and academic competitions, but several people pointed out that state competition is the highest level possible for athletics. That is not the case for academically related competitions - in particular science fairs.

Gary Stresman, a teacher working with science fair students, said academics has always been the heart of the school.

"We (participants in Science Fair) don't have a conference and regional competitions like athletics," he said. "Our program is interwoven directly with curriculum."

Stresman said approximately 100 students participate in science fair competitions.

"Their incentive is to work to go to national competition," he said. There is a local science fair and state competition for those students, followed by nationals for those who qualify.

Eliot Scheuer, who works with the science fair students, asked the board to consider allowing the academically oriented organizations the opportunity to work within a budget to determine funding for national competitions.

"National competition drives our program," Scheuer said.

Yale grad credits competitions

The teachers received support from a former student, Daniel Graves, a 2005 NHS graduate who recently graduated from Yale University.

Graves said the proposed policy would have affected him had it been in place. Graves qualified for national competitions each year of high school.

"They were the highlights of my time in high school," he said. "These are the things that motivate students."

Graves predicted decreased enthusiasm, participation and effort among students if the national competition sponsorship is eliminated.

Member Mark Majeski said the question is not whether a student could attend.

"Do we want to continue to pass that cost along to the taxpayer?" he said. "We are not saying they cannot go, but who pays."

The board decided to send the policy to the Curriculum Committee, which will meet at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 9 in room F-124. School will be back in session and other faculty members, students and parents will be able to weigh in on the proposal.

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