By Cole Parkinson
Horizon School Board had a chance to review a new policy that relates to community use of schools and their facilities.
During the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 25, the members had a chance to share their findings about the new policy and how schools were reacting to it.
“It came into force in September so the schools have had a month and a half of living with the policy now. They’ve had a period of time to provide feedback, now that we’ve had a chance to live with it for a month and a half or so at the admin meeting there was a number of things that we shared. Their comment was that they actually liked the paper work, it provided consistency, it provided tracking and there was certainly no opposition to that piece. They liked the fact that there is consistency around the janitorial contractors so historically if the school wanted to do additional work, they either would not be paying the contractors (or) they would just assume it was part of the contractors duties, it actually isn’t,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of Horizon School Division.
While the paper trail was liked by the principals of the schools, they also had some changes that they suggested would entice smaller groups to use their gyms.
“There were a number of things that they felt and were wondering if the board would be open to modify the policy. One was in regard to when you look at the policy there are some minor pieces around fees for small groups. You know if you want to use the gymnasium and for example it may be $20 per hour for a rental fee. Some of the principals felt that it may be discouraging for some of the smaller groups who want to use the school facility and now they’re paying for two hours, $40. Their concern was perhaps we have some groups who may have historically used the schools and they see they have to pay $40 and say ‘well maybe I’m not going to use it,’ so there was concern around that piece,” said Tymensen.
“The other one is we do have the ability to waive the fee in the policy for janitorial duties. So if your company is in a classroom as an example, well if you’ve got four people coming into a meeting and they’re in a classroom for an hour, is there any additional janitorial duties? And the answer is no. So instead of charging the $30 or whatever the value is per hour for janitorial duties, the principal has prerogative to say there is no extra work. The policy allows the principals the prerogative to waive that piece. Their comment is if I’ve got a small group of people coming in and it’s a minor factor, there is no wear and tear on the facility so why are we charging a rental fee?”
One of the board members sees it as a way for the principals at the schools to allow everyone access at a reasonable price.
“The principals don’t want to have to turn them away but the groups may decide to turn away because cost is prohibitive. I think they are looking for some kind of flexibility,” said Blair Lowry, Horizon board member.
Other issues with the policy was in regard to where the money from community would go to as in the current policy it goes back into the facilities department.
Principals argued that the money received from community use is a small amount so it should go directly into the school.
“The other concern was that those dollar allocations, when they do come in, they are actually redirected to the facilities department because of course if it’s heavy use, it’s heavy wear and tear. The cost of maintaining facilities, electrical costs and cost for having to redo the gym floors that cost is absorbed by the facilities department. So the cost should be offset and the dollars should be funnelled to the facilities department, that’s what the policy says. Their comment was it’s not a lot of money and is the board open to redirecting that back to the schools so they can maintain the dollars? So it’s a little bit of extra cushion for the schools,” said Tymensen.
“The policy has three categories, the first category is people who are exempt from rental fees. Basically it’s activities of the board, activities from school councils, its community health association, non profit groups, service clubs, recreation commissions and government agencies. There are no rental fees for those groups. The second category is profit is not the intent so really it’s about breaking even as an origination, that’s where the $20 an hour is for the gym or using the school kitchen. There’s a third category which is private functions and that’s where the intent is actually profit. It’s someone’s business, they’re coming in and hoping to make money. The board has hourly rates that are a little bit higher for those including cost for classrooms because really what you’re not in the business of is providing free business locations for a business. It’s the second group that is not trying to make a profit that is having concerns.”
Some of the board members were involved with the development of the policy and they say they need people to understand that there is a cost of maintaining the facilities.
“I sat on the policy committee when we developed this and it took us quite awhile to do this. There is no perfect policy that is going to fit every circumstance. The idea of having a little bit of a fee was for people in the community to realize that maintaining these facilities is not free and neither is custodial work. It’s not going to cover the cost of replacing these facilities, it’s just the idea for people to understand there is cost involved,” said Bruce Francis, Horizon board member.
“As far as this money stays at the school, I’m sorry but our facilities crew maintains all of the schools whether they’re living in Taber or living in Milk River, it makes no difference. So I don’t agree with a donation to the school, the donation should be to the department that actually maintaining the school. If the school is maintaining the school then that makes sense but they’re not, the division is.”
Another member saw that many of the smaller schools weren’t seeing much action in their school from the community.
“I was there, too, for that policy discussion and they just felt it was a hassle to take that little bit of money and send it off to maintenance or they could just keep it there and use it at their own discretion for anything. Most of that comment came from smaller schools where they weren’t being used that much,” said Rick Anderson, Horizon board member.
The board of trustees eventually decided to pass a motion unanimously to keep the policy the same for a year and then revisit it for any potential changes they might need in the future.