A proposal to charge town youth groups to use the gyms at the Watertown Public Schools has parents and youth sports groups concerned.
The subject came up last year because School officials had heard that Watertown youth groups were getting squeezed out of the gyms by for-profit renters. A policy was created to create a priority list for users of the school facilities, and fees were examined and increased on for-profit users.
At a joint meeting of the School Committee’s Budget & Finance and Buildings & Grounds subcommittees, School officials found that the fees had not always been charged.
“As the fees were implemented, it became clear that past practice had not followed the past fee policy and there were significant inconsistencies regarding who was charged and at what level,” said School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley. “Many organizations that should have been charged, based on the fee structure, either had not been charged at all or had been inconsistently charged over the years.”
The priority order for use of school facilities is:
- Watertown School Department sponsored and school-related events
- Other Town Department activities
- Watertown non-profit organizations and community activities
- Non-Watertown non-profit organizations and community activities
- For-profit organizations or commercial business
The hourly rental fees for using the gyms at any of the schools is $85 for in-town not-for-profits, $105 for other not-for-profits, and $150 for for-profit groups. See the policy by clicking here (fees are on page 9).
The School Committee discussed the fees for using School facilities at a meeting on March 4. During the same meeting, a letter from Watertown parent and youth sports coach Matt Lambo was read.
“These schools were built for the children of this town. The gyms, cafeterias and auditoriums were built to be used by the children of this town,” Lambo wrote. “Treating them like renters is wrong on so many levels. If this committee continues to do so you can expect considerable pushback from me and many other concerned parents.”
Lambo argued that the youth sports programs teach valuable skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and responsibility. Losing access to the programs could put students at risk. He added that he believed the fees should be waived for Watertown youth groups.
“These non-profit programs do not have the funds to absorb rental rates so dues will be forced to go up,” Lambo wrote. “These increases will result in lower program enrollment and ultimately in kids not participating.”
The School Committee decided to keep charging the groups the same way they have in the past for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2019.
Before the new fiscal year starts, Foley said, school officials will work with Watertown youth groups and other “partners” to come up with a solution.
“I want to make sure they know they will have whatever they had expected in the past, and we’ll be working between now and July 1 to get something that works for the district as well as our community partners.” Foley said.