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School board suspends usage fee

April 07, 2004|by TARA REILLY and ANDREW SCHOTZ

tarar@herald-mail.com
andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Youth groups temporarily will get a break from paying to use school buildings after the Washington County Board of Education decided Tuesday to put on hold a controversial 10-month-old policy.

The school board voted 6-0 to suspend for now the fees for youth groups, including booster organizations; recreation and parks groups; and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Any youth group that has used school facilities since March 1 will not be charged, under to the school board's decision.

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The board's Facilities Committee recommended the action.

Youth groups had been charged $10 to $40, depending on which facility they used, for up to two hours per use. If they used the facilities on a day school wasn't in session, they were charged an additional $50 fee for custodians and $60 in building utility fees for up to two hours of use, according to the policy.

The groups also were charged for each hour beyond the initial two hours.

Schools Public Information Officer Carol Mowen said Tuesday's vote is temporary, pending a review and revision to the school facilities policy.

That review probably won't be done until after the school board fills the vacant position of facilities management director, Mowen said.

The school board decided in August 2003 to start collecting fees from the youth groups, saying the fees were needed to cover the cost of upkeep. The school board also moved booster clubs, which raise money for school-related activities, into the "youth group" category, subjecting them to fees also.

Other organizations - including service clubs, civic groups, adult recreation groups and any profit-making organization - already were paying to use school buildings. That won't change under Tuesday's action.

All groups still will have to pay for liability insurance.

Youth groups have opposed the fee system, arguing that it was draining their finances and forcing them to pare back activities or start charging children more money to participate.

At a public meeting last month, representatives from a wide range of organizations gathered to air their complaints and think up solutions.

The Facilities Committee - made up of board members Russell Williams, Roxanne Ober and Paul Bailey - thought about delaying its recommendation, but decided to move ahead.

Ober said at Tuesday night's school board meeting that she thought the committee listened to the feedback given by youth groups last month, and "I think we felt that ... this was the best recommendation to make to the board."

Ober is the school board's vice president.

Williams, the chairman of the committee, said there is "obvious intense dissatisfaction" with the fee policy, but he cautioned the committee about acting hastily.

Committee members agreed that requiring liability insurance should not change and that the school system shouldn't get involved.

"We're not set up to do risk insurance brokerage here," said William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer.

Day care is a contracted service and is not part of the changes to the fee system, Blum said.

Some youth groups have asked about paying their way through volunteer work, but Blum said that would be difficult to track.

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