The Saline Area Schools district may reconsider a plan to increase facility rental rates after hearing presentations from representatives of local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts troops.
At its July meeting, as part of the effort to raise revenue and spare further cutbacks in the classroom, the Board of Education approved Community Education’s plan to raise facility rental rates. Although the new structure charges non-profit groups at a lower rate—the Scouts are being asked to pay $10 an hour—it’s still too much for the Scouts, according to four people who spoke to the board at Tuesday night's meeting.
Russ Brown, a leader in the Boy Scouts, said his troop uses classrooms for meeting five times a week.
“That doesn’t sound like a much, but it’s $50 a week, every week, for the entire school year. It would wipe out our entire budget,” said Brown.
During the meeting, Brown asked the board to re-evaluate the rates to better distinguish between for-profit and non-profit groups. If that was not possible, he asked that the rates be delayed for a year so that organizations like the Scouts find the finances to pay for the facilities.
Kathy Van Buren, representing area Girl Scout troops, said that 30 different troops use school facilities for meetings. She said that unlike some non-profits with paid staff, the local Girl Scouts organizations are completely volunteer-based.
“We have no revenue except for what we make selling Girl Scout cookies. It’s not possible for Girl Scouts to pay these rates. It’s not possible this year, next year or any year,” said Van Buren.
Van Buren said she was glad to see the district is looking at raising revenues, but she said charging the scouts to use classrooms for meetings may harm the local Girl Scouts organization, which is among the strongest in the region.
Upon learning about the new costs, the Girl Scouts contacted organizations in the community about using space for meetings. Van Buren said the Fifth Corner, Senior Center, churches, United Auto Workers, and Lodi Township all offered free use of their space. Moving is problematic, she said, because Scouts meetings are held right after school.
Scout leader Kim Friedman told the board that transporting Scouts to one of the new locations or having the meetings at different times would likely make life more difficult for volunteer leaders and hurt the Scouts’ ability to recruit. She reminded the board of all the work Scouts do for the schools and the community.
“As an organization, we’ve never asked for anything and we always give back when asked,” Friedman said. “Now we are asking.”
Her nine-year-old daughter, Sydney, also asked the board to reconsider.
“I sold 200 boxes of cookies last year. There is no way I could sell anymore,” she said before asking why the Girl Scouts would need to pay to use the building when the latchkey program is already in the building, using electricity.
After the public comment, the board amended its agenda to discuss the matter.
Superintendent Scot Graden noted that that there was a different fee structure for three different classes of renters, and that the Scouts paid the cheapest rate.
“Our fees stack up, relative to our peers and beyond. Charging Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts (to use facilities) is becoming the standard in Washtenaw County,” Graden said, adding that he’d like to turn the rental fee issue back to Community Education for further study.
Trustee Craig Hoeft requested that non-profits be given free access to the classrooms.
“The gym and cafeteria—those are money makers for the district. But for the classrooms, I’d like to take another look at those,” he said.
Trustee David Friese suggested non-profit service organizations be exempt from the new fee structure. Trustee Todd Carter suggested that non-profit groups who contribute to the schools through service projects be given a waiver from the fee. Trustee Lisa Slawson suggested the Community Education Director Brian Puffer meet with the Scouts councils to come up with a solution.
Another option, Friese said, is to apply for a CARES grant to offset rental costs.
Graden said the board would have the opportunity to take up the issue at its meeting Sept. 13.