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Schools' desire to charge facility fees has parks/rec. concerned



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March 19, 2014 - Whether it's Boy Scout Troops, Parks & Recreation, church groups, or even the general public, if you're going to use any Oxford Community Schools' facilities for meetings or programs, it's going to cost you.

"When budget discussions were taking place for the 2013-2014 school year, facilities usage was reviewed," said Superintendent's Administrative Assistant Patrice Bono. "Dr. (William) Skilling asked me to become involved in facilities usage around May or June of last year in an effort to recover expenses the district was incurring as a result of facilities usage."

According to Controller Fred Shuback, who handled the district's budget at the time on an interim basis, they had originally budgeted $914,000 for cleaning services but they ended up expending $961,000.

"There was at least a $40,000 overage, but I don't know how much more there was," he said. "It may be some of the cost even went other places that aren't being accounted for."

As a way to make up the difference, Bono looked at all the different groups that use facilities and tried to structure pricing that would adequately cover the cost to pay their custodians the extra time needed to clean those facility spaces after use.

Parks & Rec. is concerned

One of the biggest users of school facilities is Oxford Township's Parks & Recreation Department. According to Parks and Rec. Director Ron Davis he was approached around late October/early November that fees would be coming to Parks & Rec.

"I told them at that time there is no way we could implement fees after our budget was approved," he said. "Then we met two weeks ago and were told 'We need to implement these now.' We made it very clear at that time that we couldn't do it midway through our budget."

The district has agreed to hold off charging Parks & Rec. until the start of its new budget year of 2015 and because of their longstanding relationship, the schools will waive facilities use fees with the exception of usage of the turf (football field) and the pool at the high school. The district has also agreed to bill Parks & Rec. at $25 an hour per custodian instead of the established hourly rate of $33.

Even at just the custodial price, Davis and his staff estimate that a total cost between their athletic programs and their enrichment programs would calculate to be $97,450, which wouldn't include the setup or take down costs.

"I hate to turn that cost back on them, but at what point do we start sharing that burden with other people," he asked. "I don't know what the answer is, but I can tell you we certainly can't make up $97,450 the first year (or pay that amount) every year. There would be no initiative to increase new programs."

Davis said back in 1997 when they absorbed adult education programs from the schools, which included non-athletic things like karate and ballet it was agreed that parks & rec. would not be assessed any fees unless the district incurred additional cost like on the weekend when staff would have to be brought in for a special event.

While having to pay fees and trying to figure them all out is all kind of new to them right now, Davis did emphasize their relationship with the schools is a very good one.

"We have a great relationship with the schools and a great partnership," he said. "The average parks & rec. probably doesn't have the partnership (with schools) like we do here. It's great."

The only way they can figure to make up the $97,000 is to increase participation fees," noted Davis.

"Significant fee increases that's really where it comes down to," said Dan Sullivan, recreation supervisor for youth & adult athletics "You hate saying that but that's really what it's going to come down to is that cost being passed down. We don't have a choice and ultimately, it could put a crimp on some of our program offerings."

For athletics that could mean an additional charge between $4 to up to $100 depending upon the sport. Currently fees for residents are $60 and $70 for non-residents for all sports. Sports camps are $50 for residents and $60 non-residents.

Enrichment programs could have additional charges anywhere between $6.25 up to $120 for programs that currently cost $45 per person with the exception of the "Fun-N-Sun Camp," which is a 10 day camp and costs $100 per week. Davis said if all charges were spread out evenly the average increase per program that participants would have to pay would be $31.39.

With what they currently charge, Recreation Supervisor for Enrichment & Special Events Lauren Jacobsen, said they are currently at a "break-even" cost.

"We're not making a substantial profit."

Sullivan agreed. "We make money to cover expenses," he added.

While the school did say they would hold off charging Parks & Rec. until 2015 they are looking to possibly collect fees for this year's Fun-N-Sun Camp, which is one of Parks & Recs. most "viable programs," according to Davis.

The camp is usually held at the high school and includes Aquatics Fun-N-Sun, held at the school's pool. Typically the pool use for summer camp is one hour a day. According to the current pool fee schedule given by the schools this would cost Parks & Rec. around $575 per hour (diving boards $50/event, Natatorium $180/hour, pool locker rooms $150/hour per locker room, lifeguards $22/hour).

"At $575 it would be cheaper for us to rent a bus and bus our kids down to the pool every day at Waterford Oaks County Park, which I don't want to do," Davis said. "A bus is probably $80 and they charge kids $2 to get in the wade pool. Why would you spend $500 an hour when you can make a day of it for less than a couple hundred?"

However, pool charges are something that could be subject to change under the school's new partnership with AquaClub (see story on page 3.) Davis said he has contacted the district to try and set-up a meeting between two school board members and two Parks & Rec. commissioners in order to hopefully come to more reasonable terms. The district has agreed to meet.

"I think we've been very cooperative with the people we've met with who are long time users and making things a little bit more affordable for them," Bono said.

District's perspective

According to Assistant Superintendent of Business & Finance Pamela Anstey their goal for charging facilities is the same as Parks & Rec.- "to break even."

"The reality is the revenue sources aren't what they used to be and we need to be sure that all the funding is going into our core business – academics," she said. "The district is trying to find out what our actual expenses are and recapture those to make ourselves whole and not be footing the bill for facility use. We want the community to be a part of the school district, but we have to be realistic."

Bono agreed.

"Maybe we were in a different position years ago where we could have afforded to absorb some of these (costs)," she added.

Anstey said if the district is the one footing the bill for $97,450, then that is equal to one teacher or four Para-pros in the classroom.

"For years we've been (paying) this," she said. "But right now we haven't given our teachers raises and we were thinking about taking a 2-percent reduction last year, so we can hardly pay out $97,000."

"We're just looking at remaining whole and I don't think it's unrealistic to set that expectation," Anstey continued. "I don't think property taxpayer's monies that are going for education tax expect we're paying custodial for Parks & Rec."

Anstey also said when facilities are used it's an additional burden on the custodians because they have to wait around.

"They can't go in and do their normal cleaning and get out if someone is using the building from five until six or if they're using a classroom that could have been cleaned and closed," she said. This is especially true during the summer months, she added.

"Usually in the summer the custodians are doing deep clean, not doing clean-up. Normally a building would be empty, they go in and do a deep clean, clean a room and it's good until September," Anstey said. "Now what we're saying is 'we can't do the deep clean on these facilities and on top of it we have to do a daily clean because we have usage.'"

Included in the agreements is allowance for 30 minute setup before and 30 minute cleanup after. Bono said they have run into problems where groups have rented a classroom or facility for two hours, but end up staying for five hours and it has cost them money.

"The custodians can't fully clean the facility until the people are out," she said. "If they are just there (waiting around) monitoring, that's where the problem is."

Anstey noted that they've had other issues where people have rented the gym, but end up spreading out other facilities that they haven't paid for and leaving messes behind so the either custodians have to cleanup more than one area or teachers come in to find their classroom messy.

"We really do need someone in there from the district to manage that and to make sure whatever area is used is cleaned up because kids are coming in there the next day or whatever," she said. "We're just tightening it up and change is never easy, especially when you've gotten things for free for several years."

Hopeful for a meeting of the minds

Both Anstey and Bono emphasized that at this point they are in the "talk stage" as it relates to Parks & Rec.

"None of this is final," Anstey said. "This is just the first conversation."

"We understand it's a small and a tight-knit community so there is a lot of handshake and that," she added. "But at this point in time we're prioritizing where we should spend our money and we really feel it should be in the classroom."

Likewise, Davis said they are not upset at the district and he understands where the school is coming from.

"We just need to work through this for the betterment of the community," Davis said. "I just don't want to see the community get caught in the middle and we start cutting programs because we can't close that gap."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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