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School Board Temporarily Rescinds Controversial Fees For Facilities Use

Myers says decision could cost district $200,000

Faced with strong criticism from two Catholic schools and the , the school board Wednesday temporarily rescinded its new fee schedule for use of district facilities, with the exception of small application fees.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 and 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.

Pat Vallese August 25, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Have not fully followed this story, but as a property tax payer, with no children in the system.....anything that will lower my over all tax obligation to the township will sure be appreciated. I have to say this, I am amazed just how many Bensalem School Students live in apartments, and I believe they do not pay anything into the system. I for one, am looking for some tax relief. I like the way the story relays the idea of organization with the phrase "Out For Bear". Well, we are not organized, (the lowley childless homeowner who foots the overall bill) but we do vote..You want to use the facality?....pay for it. LETS START BY TURNING OFF THE FOOTBALL STADIUM LIGHTS......play during the daytime. Those lights stay on for hours after the game ends. Lets start cutting back expenses, I have in my home.
George Birds August 25, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Pat, I share your concerns about taxes, but having heard one of your complaints over and over again around Bensalem, I need to take issue with it. People who rent apartments do pay property taxes, they just aren't charged directly. Commerical properties, like apartment buildings, pay property taxes to the school district. They then charge rent to their tenants. When property taxes go up, do you think apartment building owners choose to eat the extra expense? Of course not, they simply raise the rent to cover the difference, so renters end up paying property taxes, just like the rest of us.
Matthew August 25, 2011 at 03:22 PM
This is a classic argument. Taxes versus the lives of children!!!! Choose a side!!!!
Pat Vallese August 25, 2011 at 03:51 PM
I would not exactly classify extracurricular activities as "..Lives of Children".
Matthew August 25, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Pat I understand your situation, taxes are tough to swallow when you see all the waste from politicians, but all positive supervised and even unsupervised activities for kids are good for the community and definately good for the kids. Take money away from education and kids programs, and you wind up paying for more prison space eventually!!! Again I reiterate a classic argument!!! Fortunately my mom and dad, and probably your's never complained about helping kids who were not their own. Have a nice day!
P2YA August 25, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Amount of fees was apparently not well thought through in the present situation, but let's not give up on the idea altogether. There is merit to fair user fees. I understand the point of parents with kids in parochial schools that they are paying taxes and receiving little value in return, but this is even more true of seniors on fixed incomes. The bottom line is taxes are too high as is, and they go up each and every year in a lack of fiscal restraint by administrators and the school board. Should the board decide (for political expedience perhaps) to back away from user fees of any sort the only alternative is that taxpayers must underwrite the expenses. In terms of church affiliated institutions this turns into a church and state matter, along with the overall unfairness of expecting taxpayers to fund private organization sports fees regardless of the well-being to children argument. A policy that's fair and well-communicated in a timely fashion should most certainly be pursued. As for athletic groups, some have considerable resources and could afford reasonable rental fees. They charge participating families to register and make a profit off each child signed up. Over the years this has created a bank and investment balance that could withstand fair and equitable fees to rent facilities, rather than once again asking taxpayers to subsidize the expense of providing their programs. Government & Taxes cannot be the cure-all for everything.
Matthew August 25, 2011 at 06:05 PM
@Truth.... Well thought out and presented. All points to consider.
Pat Vallese August 25, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Yes...True Freedom has made good solid points. They have also kept it on topic, and not infer that those who would like to see usage fees imposed, to keep the cost under control, could care less about other peoples children. Direct that anger to the Government, who chopped off the 3 million. They were only doing the fiscal thing; as I have done in my household. What is so wrong with paying for what you want to use? It's not like the 50's and 60's anymore.
Matthew August 26, 2011 at 01:30 AM
Pat, So you blame Government!!!! You are for big Government as oppossed to community control? Government can only work with what the voters will do. The last election 2010 showed that people want government OUT OF their lives!!! What a Cunumdrum? Make up your mind? Government is Taxes!!!! If you don't want to pay because you don't have children in school then you don't care!!!!!!! Sorry!!! that's the way it is !!! Selfish!!!
Pat Vallese August 26, 2011 at 02:28 AM
I dont blame the GOVONOR, He did what he had to do to bring spending in line...what are you doing Matt? You want something, you pay for it; you cant afford to buy, you lease..........just pay the user fees, and stop looking for another handout. The article brought up the 3 million that was cut from the budget, and now the LOCAL schools are trying to find a way to balance their budget ....Why dont you want to pay a users fee? Anything you add without answering that just shows me WHERE your coming from. It has nothing to do with me having children in the school system. So just what is your problem? You attack the person, but not the issue. Try growing up.
Matthew August 26, 2011 at 02:58 PM
@ Pat Vallese, Hve never had children in any school, pay taxes without hesitation, buy all my nieces and nephews coupons, script etc they sell for their schools, and I don't bitch about it. I think those who sit on school boards have tough, thankless jobs. I actually don't have a huge problem with paying fee's. I think the board backed off probably from political direction. I get very upset with those who say "I have no children in School, so I shouldn't get taxed" You grow up and stop bitchin!!!!!
Joe Hart (Editor) August 26, 2011 at 04:29 PM
The new gym has water from recent storms and Hurricane Irene is on the way...check out the story here...http://patch.com/A-l0hY

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