District seeking to recoup costs from URA, SCCSA, KAU among others, but debate over size of charge remains
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — The question is no longer if, but how much.
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District will begin charging non-profit groups that use school facilities starting with the 2012-13 school year. How much, though, remains in the hands of Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Sanville and the school administration, expected to be announced at next Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
Members of the board had fairly divergent views, although all agreed that local organizations such as the Unionville Recreation Association, Southern Chester County Soccer and KAU Little League need to pay something after years of essentially free use. URA and SCCSA have offered some in-kind contributions to defray the cost of their use of fields and gyms — most notably, a new scoreboard for Patton Middle School’s gym by URA this past year — but school officials say it still doesn’t cover the full cost to the district of having the programs at district schools.
Based on numbers provided by Rick Hostetler, the district’s director of buildings and grounds, the district incurs a cost of $6.50 per use by outside groups, about a total of $10,000 during the 2011-12 school year — over and above the cost to maintain the facilities for student use. But were those organizations be asked to pay for their total share of upkeep based on the total cost split by use ratio, the number would be $28 per use, he said.
And it was that range that sparked a “spirited” discussion during Monday night’s board Finance Committee meeting on what these groups should be charged to use school facilities. The debate became fierce enough that Sanville offered to build the rate schedule into the facility use policy — so the board could vote formally on the rates. Board members rejected that, saying the decision should remain in Sanville’s hands — in part because, members said, the board unanimously supports the new policy, even if there are disagreements about the rate schedule.
Finance chair Keith Knauss argued that the groups should pay the full $28 per use — suggesting that if the groups were getting about half the total use of the facilities, those groups should pay for half the use.
Board member Victor Dupuis questioned whether that was fair or appropriate and questioned whether such a charge could lead to the programs moving elsewhere or even disbanding — and that it would be unfair to just charge groups that use the facilities most, rather than charging local residents who use the tennis courts or basketball courts.
While most board members seemed to be in support of a charge around $6.50 and were reluctantly OK with the idea of adding a small fee — .65 for management and overhead costs — Knauss, Holly Manzone and Jeff Hellrung argued for a higher rate for the non-profit groups.
“I don’t want to make a profit off these groups,” Manzone said. “But $6.50 is too low. We’re at a point where we’re talking about program cuts in education, so it’s got to be reasonable…we’re tightening the belt more than ever right now.”
But board members Dupuis, Jeff Leiser, Eileen Bushelow and Kathleen Do all expressed concerns about the impact on the programs that use the facility — and passing along additional costs to families could mean less kids participating in sports and other activities. Do said she had conversations with board members Frank Murphy and Gregg Lindner, who could not attend Monday’s meeting, and said both were in support of the $7.15 fee. Leiser, Do and Dupuis argued for $6.50, although Dupuis and Do said they would reluctantly support the $7.15 fee.
What Sanville decides could have a big impact on local sports organizations. If Sanville opts for the $7.15 charge, it would mean about a $5,000 annual charge to the URA — or about $5 per child enrolled. A $28 charge would amount to about $20,000, or $20 per year per child enrolled for the URA. While SCCSA has a lease deal for fields at Anson B. Nixon Park and KAU Little League is able to use facilities in the Kennett Consolidated School District, URA is largely limited to facilities within the school district and has, URA officials say, been forced to turn children away due to the lack of available playing fields.
The only existing comparison within the district is URA, KAU & SCCSA’s use of Pocopson Park, for which the groups are charged $10 per use.