Faced with strong criticism from two Catholic schools and the Valley Athletic Association, the school board Wednesday temporarily rescinded its new fee schedule for use of district facilities, with the exception of small application fees.
The board's 7-0 decision to roll back fees to their original rates and study the issue further could cost the district as much as $200,000, according to district business manager Jack Myers.
Representatives and supporters of St. Ephrem's and St. Charles Borromeo schools and Valley AA seemed loaded for bear at Wednesday's board meeting. But before it was their chance to speak, new Superintendent of Schools David Baugh announced the administration was recommending the fees be cut in half. But soon the board decided to simply return the fees to their previous levels and simply keep the new application fees, which Myers said range from $10 per event or $50 per season.
In doing so, some board members went so far as to say they hadn't done their homework until hearing from critics earlier this month that the new fees jeopardized the upcoming after-school athletic basketball seasons.
Chester Marshall was the first to do so.
“I think the policy as it stands now puts a lot of burden on youth organizations that use our facilities,” he said. “We need to review it over the next few months. We do need to charge something. We have to find ways to generate revenue.”
District officials continued to say they were trying to cope with a loss of $3 million in state aid without putting the burden on all taxpayers.
“We tried to do the right thing but it didn't work out and I didn't ask the right questions,” Marshall said.
Board member Yagnesh Choksi said the fees charged by other districts need to be reviewed.
Board member Wayne Lewis suggested the district's review of the issue be finished by January. However, colleagues Ralph Douglass and Kim Rivera spoke of deferring the fees for a year.
“We might have to bite the bullet,” Douglass said. “The taxpayers may have to subsidize a little bit...”
“We have to keep the children and the taxpayers in mind,” said Rivera. “I should have done more homework.”
The school board approved the 13-page policy in June. The policy includes rental fees, energy and air conditioning charges, and deposits for differently classified entities, including nonprofits, that use gyms, pools, fields, auditoriums, cafeterias and rooms.
The ADs at the two schools and the athletic association previously said the fees would cost St. Ephrem's about $41,000, St. Charles about $100,000 and Valley more than $40,000. However, Myers has said the groups had overestimated their costs, saying they should have been based on $70 an hour
Joe DePascale, athletic director at St. Charles, thanked the board for its decision, saying it will put the school's basketball program, which serves about 125 youngsters, in “decent shape at the moment.”
However, he and Annmarie Jaskel, of the St. Charles swim team, accused the district of making the change in a clandestine manner.
“We need to be a party to whatever you do,” DePascale said. “These things can't happen behind closed doors and we can't be notified right before our seasons start.”
In response, board member Harry Kramer, who presided over the meeting in Heather Nicholas' absence, pointed out that the policy was discussed at public meetings of the board.
Bob Wrazen, basketball commissioner for Valley AA, also thanked the board. But he said a future decision to establish fees at 50 percent of the rates in the rescinded policy would still mean a 35 percent to 40 percent hike for his parents.
“That's going to drive some people away,” he said.
Dan Shurdich, AD at St. Ephrem's, was less enthusiastic about the board's decision.
“We'll be paying $30 for the gym; the next year it will be $60, the following it will be $90. It will never stop” said Shurdich, who criticized the board earlier this month.
Furthermore, Shurdich said kids from St. Ephram's will never be able to afford fees at the $15 million gym/community center expected to be opened this fall at Bensalem High.
“We won't get to use it. We're taxpayers. We're part of the community,” he said.
In the end, the three groups agreed to provide the district with the fees it charges its participants along with their expenses.
Myers said after the meeting that rolling back the fees to previous levels means the three groups will be paying nothing for the time being, except for the nominal application fees.