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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Free use of schools may end

Board looks into possibility of charging rent from such groups as Scouts, city

March 31, 2004

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Cubmaster Rick Werner had a simple response to the idea that Cub Scout Pack 3370 could be charged a fee to meet at Deerfield School.

"We wouldn't pay it," he said. "We could pay it, but it would be taking away from the kids -- their programs, their awards banquet, that sort of thing. To force us to pay rent, the kids would lose."

The cash-strapped Lawrence school board has directed its staff to look into the possibility of collecting rental fees from community organizations that use school facilities. Currently, the district charges only for for-profit uses of buildings, which brought in $93,610 last year.

The increased fee proposal was part of a plan approved Monday by the school board to deal with a budget shortfall for next year.

Specific fees haven't been set, but Rick Gammill, the district's director of special operations, transportation and safety, said charging a flat fee of $20 per use could boost the district's coffers by nearly $50,000 a year.

Gammill also presented a plan that would charge philanthropic groups such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts a flat fee of $20 per use, while Lawrence Parks and Recreation would pay $20 per hour for use of school facilities. That plan would raise $90,000.

Several board members said they would favor charging a nominal fee to philanthropic organizations. Groups that typically meet at schools include Scouts, 4-H'ers, neighborhood associations, Free State Credit Union and chess clubs.

"I'm very interested in being a good neighbor," Supt. Randy Weseman said. "When it comes to protecting our programs, I think we need to look at this."

The brunt of the fee increase probably would be borne by Lawrence Parks and Recreation. According to district records, the city used school gymnasiums more than 900 times last year, mainly for youth basketball, volleyball and soccer games and practices.

Kelly Brakenhoff, left, and her son, Jeth Brakenhoff, 7, carry
Jeth's craftwork over Andy Dominguez, right, 6, during the Tiger
Cub Scouts' craft night at Prairie Park School, 2711 Kensington
Road. The Lawrence school district is weighing a plan to charge
fees for using school buildings for activities and meetings
unrelated to school activities. The Tiger Cub Scouts met on Tuesday
at the Lawrence school.

Kelly Brakenhoff, left, and her son, Jeth Brakenhoff, 7, carry Jeth's craftwork over Andy Dominguez, right, 6, during the Tiger Cub Scouts' craft night at Prairie Park School, 2711 Kensington Road. The Lawrence school district is weighing a plan to charge fees for using school buildings for activities and meetings unrelated to school activities. The Tiger Cub Scouts met on Tuesday at the Lawrence school.

Charging $20 per hour to Lawrence Parks and Recreation would raise about $60,000, Gammill said.

"There's a net transfer of wealth from the school district to Parks and Rec," said school board member Rich Minder.

Now, the district charges other groups mainly for use of school gyms, on a per-day basis.

Question of benefit

But Fred DeVictor, director of Lawrence Parks and Recreation, said he didn't see it that way. He said the city's use of school facilities was offset by Lawrence High School's use of the Holcom Sports Complex for baseball and softball and the Lawrence Alternative High School's use of the Holcom Recreation Center for physical education.

"We feel we have a good partnership with the school district," DeVictor said. "We use their facilities and they use our facilities. We sort of offset one another."

But Weseman said he was concerned that the city charged Free State High School $50 an hour for use of the Indoor Aquatic Center, which adjoins the school.



"The rationale for the pool doesn't seem to be same rationale for the (city's use of the) gyms," Weseman said.

DeVictor said he thought the city's preparation of baseball and softball fields roughly equaled the amount schools pay in custodial services and upkeep for city use of gymnasiums. That justified the schools paying for use of the Indoor Aquatic Center when it opened in 2001.

Who gets more?





No decisions have been made, but here's a look at some proposals for charging nonschool users of Lawrence school facilities and what each might raise in a year:¢ Flat fee of $20 per use -- $50,000.¢ Flat fee of $20 for philanthropic groups, per-hour fee of $20 for Lawrence Parks and Recreation -- $90,000.¢ Currently, the district charges mainly for use of school gyms, at this per-day rate: $125 at elementaries, $250 at junior highs and $350 at high schools -- $93,000.

Lee Ice, supervisor of youth sports for the city's parks department, said he doubted the schools got more out of the agreement with the city.

"We'd have to start charging them," Ice said, if the district charged the city. "Anybody could probably put a pencil to it and say you benefit more for it. Both public schools and Parks and Rec have budget constraints."

For groups like Werner's Cub Scouts, having to pay a fee may mean looking for a new home. Werner said he knew of several area churches where the group could meet for free.

"If they charge anything we'd leave," Werner said. "It's a principle."

The Kaw Valley Soccer Assn. also has used school gyms for winter practices for its premiere-level teams. Mark Begert, vice president of the organization's board of directors, said the fee would make playing soccer even more expensive for players and their families.

"A premiere parent is going to pay $500 to $800 per year, and now they're talking about ticky-tack $20 fees," Begert said. "It would get passed on (to players' parents). There's no other way."

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