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Panel to review school use fees

February 17, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Board of Education committee is expected today to recommend that a task force be formed to address criticism about fees charged to youth groups using school facilities, school board President Edward Forrest said Monday.

The task force would include representatives of the groups that use school buildings and fields, Forrest said.

The school board voted 6-0 in August 2003 to revise an existing policy on the use of school facilities, adding some fees and increasing others.

Before the revision, some groups were charged for using school facilities, but youth groups were not, the school system's chief operating officer, William Blum, said Monday.

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Rates were increased for groups that were charged fees for using school facilities before the August vote.

The Facilities Committee meets at 12:45 p.m. at the Central Office building. The committee can't take action but can make recommendations to the board.

Forrest said he hopes the task force will develop an alternative facilities fee structure that addresses school system employee and maintenance costs for use of the buildings without placing too much of a burden on the groups that use them.

The plan to form a task force comes "in response to an overwhelming amount of concerns voiced primarily by youth athletic groups and Scouting groups," Forrest said.

Hancock Mayor Daniel Murphy said he has been compiling a list of grievances about the policy. Because Hancock is small, community groups use school facilities for events, he said.

"I know times are tight and they are looking at ways to balance the fees ... but this seems like a little bit of an unnecessary burden," Murphy said. "I do not think it is right that they charge fees to legitimate community groups when we are supposed to have partnerships."

Murphy said he was pleased the school board planned to reconsider the issue.

"I think it's great that they are looking at the public outcry and will look at their decision," Murphy said.

Sports groups and leagues have raised fees as a result of the school system's policy change, Forrest said. He knows this personally, he said, because groups in which his children are involved have increased their fees.

"I am glad the board is looking at reconsidering what it is doing," said Washington County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations President Scott Nicewarner.

He said he has heard complaints about the policy change and has passed concerns on to board members.

"I think the fee puts a strain on too many people," Nicewarner said. It also could make it impossible for some students to participate in athletic organizations, he said.

While groups can hold fund-raisers to pay the fees, "kids in this county are fund-raised to death," he said.

School board member Roxanne Ober, who is on the committee, and Forrest said they have gotten calls from people upset about the changes in the fee policy.

School board member Russell Williams, who is the committee chairman, said he previously called for the school system to reconsider the fee structure.

The school system has been phasing in the new fee structure, charging some groups only about one-third of the amount dictated by the current policy, Blum said. The plan is to phase in the fees over three years, he said.

The fees are needed so the school system can provide facilities to others without having to take away money that would go directly toward students' education, he said.

Before the fees were instituted, the school system essentially was subsidizing the groups using facilities, he said.

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