Schools to charge non-profits for facility use

District seeking to recoup costs from URA, SCCSA, KAU among others, but debate over size of charge remains

By Mike McGann, Editor,

Non-profit groups such as the Unionville Recaretion Association, Southern Chester County Soccer Association and the KAU Little League will have to pay a facilities' use fee starting in 2012-13. How much that fee will be was a subject of discussion, Monday night.

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.

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  1. Observing says:

    The $10,000 the district wants from URA represent about .0001% of the district’s annual operating budget. We are not going to hire one teacher or save one program with that kind of “savings.” Yet, what will happen is the creation of a great deal of bad blood from many taxpayer-parents in the district who are the same folks that run the PTOs, organize the fund raisers, support community events, etc., etc. I think the district’s time and resources would be better spent looking elsewhere for savings.

  2. concerned_in_ucfsd says:

    Mr. Ladd:

    What about all of the “taxpayers”, who are NOT using the facilities, yet are paying the UCFSD “High” School Taxes? Why should their taxes cover your & the other organizations “costs” to the District? I believe that the people using the facilities should pay their “fair share” of the expenses.

    I’m sure that the UCFSD appreciates your/URA’s “contributions” of the score board & the other items over the years, but the time has come to open up the URA’s financial records, so your supporters/members can see what kind of fund balances the URA has available!!

  3. Jeff Hellrung says:

    I’m pleased at the tone and the wisdom of most of these comments. The sports groups have always agreed that they impact district costs and they have made in kind contributions all along. This proposed fee schedule just makes payments more rational in that it uses actual additional costs, is more predictable, and is more fair. Let’s tone down the extreme rhetoric from the few alarmists and do the right thing for the district by applying these modest and reasonable fees.
    Jeff Hellrung

  4. Kim Di Biaggio says:

    While I understand the public furor that this issue has created and respect Brian Ladd’s comments (he has been a strong leader for URA for years), I also understand why this issue has come about.

    Basically, nothing good in life is free! A general tax increase (as noted by some) would affect ALL taxpayers in the district. A fee to the nonprofit groups only affects those players/families who are using the facilities.

    Due to the current economy, we now live in a pay to play world. While sports/activities are a very important part of school life, we cannot expect the school to foot the entire bill any more for our children to play sports or do school activities, as that would take funds away from academics which is primarily why our children are in school to begin with correct? So that is why we pay activity fees.

    Just like it cannot be “free” to play a URA sport because there are many costs involved, it also cannot be “free” to use facilities that require maintenance to keep them in top shape for our children to use. Someone has to foot that bill and it seems logically fair to expect those that use it to pay to help maintain it. Do many parents already help maintain some of these facilities? Sure they do! But there is still professional day-to-day maintenance that has to be done.

    Other districts in our area charge for facilities use by non-school groups. And other youth programs charge things such as “capital fees” per family to help cover maintenance and equipment replacement (BYC charges $50/family annually for example). I do not think an additional $5 tacked on to the registration fee for my child to play is asking too much.

    Someone’s gotta pay it, and I think it’s fair that it be me since my son is the one using it.

  5. Kristin Hoover says:

    The public appears to misunderstand who is responsible. The School Board is only responsible for policy and is limited to an advisory opinion on the fee schedule. Dr. Sanville and his administration are responsible for setting the fees under whatever fee schedule is ultimately determined by them. This fee schedule falls under administrative guidelines which directly address how a voted upon policy is enforced. As Dr. Sanville has stated in a Policy work session, these administrative guidelines are “how the rubber meets the road.” I said in public that I don’t like this system, particularly with regard to the bullying policy, because it effectively takes the responsibility away from the board for policy issues and concentrates it on the Superintendent. As with so much in how our government was established, there is a system of checks and balances. Administrative guidelines change that check and balance as they give the Superintendent the power to effectively change how policy is implemented in very significant ways. I’ve been repeatedly told by the Board President not to worry about this because the Board and the Superintendent have been generally synchronous over the last year. In this case, I would say that the elected School Board has 9 different opinions on the issue so it will be interesting to see how Dr. Sanville decides because it is his unelected opinion that counts.

  6. jon taylor is right on says:

    Why do we have to continue pay and pay for all of our activities… I feel like we have been nickled and dimed enough!

  7. Jonathan Taylor says:

    Mr. Knauss,
    When the district can provide adequate facilities to our student athletes that compare with other local districts without significant time and money from the boosters, I will agree with your third point. However, the district does not provide for adequate facilities without significant parent support at this time. Maybe the booster clubs should start charging the school for the work that we do to help maintain and improve the fields and athletic programs as a whole. These non-profit field users are in many cases the same people that are already paying activity fees and spending many volunteer hours supporting the school programs. You are doing nothing more that effectively hitting the people in the wallet that are already supporting the programs at the school. Why not raise our taxes some more. It is basically the same thing.

  8. Keith Knauss says:

    To be succinct:
    – our community based non-profit recreational groups provide a valuable service for our children
    – the District spends about $90K each year to maintain athletic fields; $10K of which is directly attributable to the incremental use of recreational groups
    – it is inappropriate to use educational tax dollars to subsidize recreational activities, however virtuous those activities might be
    – therefore, the Board is asking our non-profit field users to cover that $10K cost, which if the Editor is correct, will add about $5 to the registration fee of URA participants

  9. Vic Dupuis says:

    These are all great comments. As everyone knows, there are no easy answers. I am not going to attempt to speak on behalf of other Board members, but allow me to offer some of my thoughts on this issue and some of the excellent points raised by Mr. Ladd and others here:
    1. The District has expressed great appreciation for the in-kind contributions made by our Community Partners, including both URA and the SCCSA. These contributions have included scoreboards, field equipment and fencing, among other things. As both the District and these organizations have acknowledged in the past that these in-kind contributions were at least partly in lieu of any form of rental or usage fee, we should assume that any Impact Fee assessed to these groups going forward would replace or potentially be offset by future in-kind contributions.
    2. The specific Impact Fee that was discussed on Monday pertains to field use only. Gymnasium and classroom usage is covered under a separate part of the Facility Usage Policy, and organizations like URA and SCCSA would only be responsible for expenses for staff costs when these facilities are being used outside of regular hours, consistent with current practices. In other words, there should be no impact from a cost standpooint for this facility use.
    3. When reviewing the costs for field use, our administrative staff can clearly identify certain incremental expenses that the District incurs because of the substantial outside usage of the fields. These expenses include among other things, additional maintenance, seeding and fertilizing of the fields, along with a small adjustment for higher frequency usage of equipment. While our estimates are not exactly precise, we can compare the costs of fields that are limited to school-only use to those that are shared with our community partners. It appears that there is enough data to quantify an impact on maintenance expenses, so we are referring to this cost assessment as an Impact Fee.
    4. If there are issues with regard to the District being viewed as a “Service Provider”, I for one say “Bring it On!” We are a servie provider – both as an institution of top-rated education and as a centerpiece facility for our community. We all should expect the best possible service and facility given the resources available to the District, and certainly Rick Hostetler and his staff will continue to both strive for excellence AND listen to suggestions from our community partners for improvement.
    5. Please, enough of the referendum-high school renovation-forcing down our throats bashing and imflammatory sledge hamnmering of past board decisions! It’s 2012, let’s move forward. The financial fact is that the renovation is financed within the same percentage of our budget for debt service that the Board has maintained for years. Debt service is not a financial issue: Rising costs for employee salaries and benefits are the primary financial issue. The good news is that our biggest financial issue is centered on our biggest asset: Our people. It makes for interesting contract negotiations, but it allows us all to focus our primary financial concerns on people, and hopefully we all behave better as a community because of that.

    Again, these are my thoughts and do not represent the opinions of the Board or District Administration, but let’s continue an open and reasoned dialogue on this and other financial issues facing our community and School District.

  10. Susan says:

    Dear Dr. Sanville and members of the UCFSD School Board,

    I can not express how deeply disappointed I am to learn of your intention to charge non profit groups such as URA for the use of district facilities.  I have always considered the district and URA partners in our mutual goal of providing our children with fun, healthy and rewarding activities that  both enrich the lives of our children, and bring pride and success to our district by feeding our athletic teams with well trained, highly skilled athletes.  

    Increasing the financial burden to our URA families would create a ripple that over time could decrease participation in URA, reduce the number of volunteer coaches, limit exposure to a variety of sports to our children, force skilled players out of our region, and could limit the future successes of Unionville athletics.

    The increasing costs of insurance, uniforms, and officials to name a few things, have already forced URA to increase fees in recent years.  Adding even a few more dollars per player, could be enough to force a family to say, ‘ I am sorry we can not afford for you to play two or three sports, you will have to quit one’. Is this what we want?  To have our children home watching TV, when they would rather be playing basketball or baseball?

    My concern, sadness, and frustration regarding this proposal comes not only as a parent of student athletes who participate in multiple URA activities; but also as a tax paying parent in the district. The financial stability and continued educational successes of our schools are very important to me.  I have spent years dedicating my attention to the support and advancement of our schools and our students. But on this subject I feel the district is minimizing the importance of URA and similar organizations to our children, and abusing me as a tax payer.  I already pay taxes to the district, a portion of which go toward field and building maintenance. I feel it unfair that I should be asked to pay again for the use of facilities which already exist and stand ready.

    I hope you reconsider your plans to charge non profit organizations for the use of tax payer funded district facilities; and instead look to partner with these organizations to create income sources which would benefit both the district and the student athlete.

    Thank you for your time and attention.

    Susan Norris
    Pocopson Township

  11. Katie says:

    I find it hard to believe this will not actually cost the district more! Someone will have to put a system in place to bill and collect those fees!

  12. Mary Thomas says:

    I second Bran Ladd’s thoughtful comments and strongly urge the Board to consider a waiver for URA and other non-profit organizations that serve mainly the District’s school children. A high fee will inevitably result in some children – likely those who need it most – being denied a healthy outlet for their youthful energy. While those with the resources will continue to find ways for their children to play sports (albeit only with other kids with financial means), those without the resources will be denied. These are not the values being espoused at my child’s elementary school, where my children are taught that every child should have the opportunity to learn and to lead a healthy lifestyle. I hope that the Board will practice what our schools teach and not raise unnecessarily high barriers to a healthy lifestyle to some children within our District.

  13. URA Fan says:

    Thank Goodness we have a voice of reason with Vic Dupuis on board.

  14. Sean - Pocopson PA says:

    Great letter Brian, and my son has enjoyed URA basket ball for a number of years. I understand your concerns, however the school board makes a number of good points as well. No one wants to see their taxes go up, especially in this current economic environment. The school district is taxed with a number of financial issues that need to be addressed. After the public voted down the new high school project twice (as if they didn’t understand the outcome of the vote the first time), the school board went against the residents and forced it down our throats. Now, where did they come up with the money to pay for that new addition / building? Unfortunately, we have 15 or so years of interest only payments before they begin to even touch the principal balance on the loan. What a waste of taxpayers money. This has put the school district in a bad financial situation. They are now at the point where they will probably charge our kids to use the toilet. I guess what I am saying is that this doesn’t surprise me in the least. They need money, and everything is an option at this point. Its sad, but this is a reality we will all have to experience.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Brian, the seniors already are paying $200 a year to park at the high school. Since there are about 300 kids who can usually park, the high school is making $60,000 a year just off of the kids parking.

  16. Timesreader says:

    Well said Brian Ladd!

  17. Brian Ladd says:

    Brian asked that this comment be deleted and replaced as a letter to the editor, which can be read here:

  18. Vidya Rajan says:

    At a time when budgets are tight, a minimal charge may be defensible. This is a time when incomes are also tight. The non-profits do a fabulous job with volunteer parents and coaches to keep kids active. Jeopardizing their use of the essentially taxpayer-funded facilities will leave both poorer – facilities will be left unused, and kids will not have the opportunity for participating in sport outside of school.

    This is a time when cooler heads and kinder hearts must prevail. Kids already pay a “Pay-to-Play” in the district. Should we really be risking putting sports out of their reach outside school?

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