Letter to the Editor — 09 May 2013
Sartell schools fall short, fail to live up to reputation

Melissa Pickens, Sartell

When my family decided to move, we chose Sartell because of the school system. Having four children (two older and two preschool age at the time), we knew education was an important factor in our decision about where to buy a house. Newspaper articles boasted about the high test scores of Sartell students. Their reputation among the people in the surrounding districts was infallible. Sartell was the “place to be” for the best educational experience.

Well, we have officially come to the end of our first year of school in Sartell. I am less than impressed. In fact, I am enraged. I am enraged, broke and I don’t know a single person in the district (not for lack of effort). Let me explain. My husband and I make an average income of about $55,000 a year. It’s not a lot, but we get by. We have a junior in high school, who chose for many reasons to attend another school in a different district and is sublimely happy with his choice. We have a kindergartener and a pre-preschooler, both in Sartell.

First, the cost (I will include only our kindergartener, since he is technically the only one in the Sartell school system). My husband and I both work full time so we have to pay for before- and after-school care. Full-day kindergarten, giving him the best educational “kick-start,” in our opinion, in Sartell costs money. In Sartell there is a sliding fee scale for that, based on one’s income. We do not qualify for free- or reduced-cost lunch,  and our son can eat. School supplies are not provided at school, and they ask you provide extra and provide them throughout the school year. Activities are not covered, and donations are requested regularly.

Total cost for kindergarten:

Before and after-school care ($10 a day on school days, $20 when school is closed) – $440

School tuition ($200 per month) – $1,800

School lunch (roughly $90 per month) – $810

Activities fees, school supplies, etc. – $200

Total – $3,250

Second, I don’t know a soul! I work full time (I have to with the cost of four kids), but I still manage to attend every single event at his school and volunteer in his classroom once per week and at events and/or PTO activities when I can (they are usually during the day). I’m not a judgmental person; I’m usually very outgoing and nice. But nobody spoke to me. Nobody invited me into their “clique.” How can we expect our children to grow up to be accepting and non-judgmental individuals when we as parents are the worst of them all, cliquey rich and snobby.

And finally, it’s time for the baby of the family to attend preschool next year. I brought him in for his preschool screening, and I was not surprised to discover he will need speech therapy. That was March 2013. A month later, they called me back to schedule a screening, but she couldn’t fit me in until May. Although once my appointment rolled around, she called and said she couldn’t do it until the fall because the district said they need 30 days in order to do an assessment. Well, here’s why it matters to me. After spending two months trying to get in touch with the preschool coordinator for Sartell (apparently she also works for another district), my son got the last spot. She informs me Sartell does not provide busing or any sort of transportation UNLESS the child has special needs AND the family can prove hardship. Well, my husband and I work full time (as I mentioned). So we have no way to get him to preschool. So since the speech pathologist and district so eloquently put us off until the end of the year, we have no way to transport him to preschool unless I quit my job. But then I can’t afford it. Because of course it costs money, on top of daycare. Here’s how much…

Daycare (full-time per week – $140); preschool (two days a week for two hours per week cost $130)

Total per week cost – $270

Icing on the cake: I received a letter from the district saying since we moved in the middle of the school year, my son (the kindergartener), who has made friends at PME and finished his first year at a new school (and a teacher he loves – the only good thing about the school – great teachers), has to now switch to Oak Ridge Elmentary because of a “capacity issue.”

So, parents beware. When choosing a place to move to, and reading those enticing newspaper articles about the flashy and fantastic Sartell, it’s not so fantastic. They will nickel-and-dime you and knock you around until you say “uncle.” Not to mention they are just downright mean here.

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(3) Readers Comments

  1. Melissa, I must say I am almost embarrassed for you, and think your anger is misguided. These are costs you would pay in any district. Only part time Kindergarten is paid for in the State of Minnesota and it sounds like it was your preference to have him attend full days , and pre-school tuition is always out of pocket. Almost all parents are in the situation of needing care before and after school, which I can agree the cost is outrageous, but again, not just in Sartell. School Lunch guidelines are not the schools. The schools also actually receive more money back for free/reduced lunch, so it would be in their benefit if you qualified. And name a school were all supplies are provided and you are not requested to kick in extra. You can always supply his lunch to reduce your cost. It sounds like some poor planning and you have got yourself in over your head with the expenses of raising children. I was in a similar position a few years back with choosing an area to move, and couldn’t have had a more opposite experience. Bottom line is it is you, not the schools, and it sounds like you should have done some more research beyond a newspaper. Go Somewhere where less is demanded and you will get less result. The schools here succeed because of good successful parents, not ones that compain about kickin in the extra $200

  2. Sorry to hear that you aren’t happy with the school expenses. My kids have been in Sartell schools since they started school. We’ve always had to buy our own school supplies, but never had to pay any tuition for schools. That must be something new. I know St Francis pays tuition, but never the public school! As far as Preschool goes, we didn’t send our kids for that very reason, no transportation. They’ve both graduated and did fine without it. Personally, I don’t find preschool necessary, but that’s me. We don’t pay tuition for my step kids that are in high school, so I don’t know why you would have to in kindergarten. Day care is unavoidable, has nothing to do with the school district, same with school lunches. Brown bagging is cheaper, but not as convenient. If you have having trouble making friends, take a look at yourself to make sure you are a person that YOU would like to be friends with. I’ve experienced mostly friendly people. Best of luck!

  3. Ms Pickens:

    I have to say that I am incrediby suprised about your experiences in Sartell. I have 2 children at Oak Ridge Elementary currently and I have to tell you that I can’t be more happy with my experiences there! As far as your complaints as to the “cost” of Sartell schoolls…The details of your expenses are not exclusive to Sartell.

    Lunches–If the cost of lunch is too high then there is a choice to pack a lunch.

    Field Trips–In Sauk Rapids, they (the parents) pay for every single field trip…even if it is in the St Cloud area….in Sartell, both my children have gone on MANY field trips including the Minnesota Zoo and I have never paid a penny for those trips.

    Cost for all day kindergarten…yes, there is a cost to that. If the cost insn’t affordable, then there is a 1/2 day Kindergarten option that is free. I know that Sauk Rapids only recently started offering free all day kindergarten. (Sauk Rapids also has open enrollment so that may be an option for you).

    School Supplies…if you have gone to Target before school starts you will see a big board with all the St Cloud Area school supply lists. I beleive they all require students to supply their own pencils, notebooks, rulers, markers, etc. That just isn’t something Sartell does!

    Daycare….well, daycare is daycare. Nothing we can do about that. Thats the cost of having children. You would pay for daycare in every state and every city. Nothing Sartell does that is any different than any other area!!!

    Kid Stop…that fee is the same at every school.

    Ms Pickens….to quote you: “How can we expect our children to grow up to be accepting and non-judgmental individuals when we as parents are the worst of them all, cliquey rich and snobby.” Really? You are the one judging the parents as a GROUP! There isn’t anybody in Sartell that I associate with that falls under ANY of those statuses! I think you are the one that is being judgemental.

    As far as you not knowing anybody…where do you work…do you not have co-workers that are from Sartell? Where do you live…do you not go outside and interact with your neighbors? I will tell you that when I moved to Sartell in 2005, I didn’t know a single person either. However, I can now say that my closest friends now live in Sartell and most of them are my neighbors!

    As far as the speech therapy…I’m sure it was an oversight on the school’s part. I can almost guarantee they did something to rectify or accomodate you…(before they saw this letter to the Editor!)

    I actually am very sorry for your anger towards the great city that I have grown to LOVE….and I am proud to call Sartell my home!

    Children do cost money…education does cost money. There are times in life when we don’t always get what we want! Thats all part of life.

    Good luck to you!

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