By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Are new fees for facility usage pricing community organizations out of Niagara-Wheatfield School District buildings?
Some community members believe the fees, designed to offset operating costs and salaries of workers who are responsible for cleaning up after events, are too much. They say the fees are forcing them to look elsewhere for places to hold meetings, practices and sporting events.
"They've never asked for a fee until this fall," Laura Lloyd, a concerned community member, said. "The many groups using the schools didn't know they'd be asked to pay to use the gym, the grounds in general. Everything is so nickel and dimed now."
Currently, the district is enforcing a policy its had on the books for years. However, prior to last year when enforced by then-Interim Superintendent James Knowles, the fee schedule was not followed. Organizations, including the Niagara Wheatfield Amateur Athletics cheerleaders, girl scout troops and recreation volleyball players using Colonial Village Elementary's gym one night per week, have been required to pay.
It's caused some organizations, like the cheerleaders, to increase their membership fees. Others have been forced to find other locations who aren't charging or stop meeting altogether.
Niagara-Wheatfield boss Lynn Marie Fusco said plans are in place to review the fee schedule policy soon, but wouldn't suggest changes are in order.
"We're going to take a look at the policy," she said. "But I can't guarantee we'll change anything. It costs us money to have the facilities open. Previously, the last interim superintendent did an analysis and determined what the fees should be."
Review of the policy, as well as many others in the district's manual, will fall on a review committee of board members, which she's hoping to have formed in the next few days.
One of the main functions of the board of education is to review and ensure all policies are up to date, Fusco said. Though the district participates in a policy review program offered through Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the current policy manual is outdated in several areas.
"It's time for us to look at that policy manual," Fusco said. "We need to make sure everything we do is up to the latest level. It's very important, because we look at our policies in order to make decisions."
Meeting Wednesday, the district's school board approved the implementation of three new policy revisions and creations. Among them is new language designed to address a situation which turned dangerous last school year at West Street Elementary.
Policy 5686, which addresses permitted use of small electrical devices in buildings, puts restrictions on items like toaster ovens, electric space heaters, hot plates, coffee pots, heat lamps, microwave ovens and fans after a faulty item forced the school to evacuate and temporarily relocate its kindergarten classes until work was completed over the summer.
These items would only be permitted in certain areas of the school buildings and are subject to fire inspections annually, the policy states.
School Board President Steve Sabo said he'd assist as part of the subcommittee reviewing the district's operations. He too is concerned the manual is in need of some new eyes to ensure everything is listed in the proper location and no policies are redundant or contradictory.
He'd also like to find out if the district is charging outside organizations too much to use its facilities, he said.
"It's possible we've cost them out," he said. "But there's numerous policies in our manual that have never been enforced, for various reasons. It's something we need to look at."