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March meeting set to gather input on fees

February 18, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A public meeting is scheduled in March to gather feedback on fees charged to youth groups and other organizations to use public school buildings in Washington County.

The Board of Education Facilities Committee, at a meeting Tuesday afternoon, decided it wanted the full board to send letters notifying the approximately 60 groups that pay facilities fees of the informational meeting, tentatively scheduled March 18. Boy Scouts troops and athletic organizations are among the groups using the facilities.

The fees imposed to pay the estimated $100,000 cost of providing school facilities to nonschool groups have sparked some criticism and resulted in some groups raising its costs to members, school board officials said.

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"There is steam out there, and we need to let people vent this steam," said board member Russell Williams, chairman of the Facilities Committee, during the committee meeting.

The meeting could result in the school system learning there is little opposition to the fees, Williams said.

Following the March meeting, a task force will be created to examine the fees, the board decided Tuesday.

In August 2003, the school board revised a policy on the use of school facilities, increasing the fees for some groups and imposing fees on youth groups for the first time.

William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer, said he is concerned that invitations will be sent only to groups with a vested interest in cutting or eliminating the fees.

"I think you are stacking the deck in a certain way," he said.

Williams said others can speak at the meeting, but his guess was that only opponents would attend and speak.

Blum said money not charged to the groups must come from another source. He does not think that source should be funds earmarked for students' textbooks.

The school system gets funding to educate its students, not - as some critics of the fee change seem to believe - to provide its property for the community at large, Blum said. He rejected the suggestion that the fees constitute double taxation.

Committee members asked Blum to make a presentation at the March meeting explaining why the fee change was needed. Blum said he could do so, but he expressed frustration that he has made the presentation previously.

"We can go do this again, but we have already done this," he said.

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