Coupeville School Board backs off on facility fees
By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
April 28, 2012 · Updated 12:12 PM
An improved budget and a community backlash is prompting Coupeville School District officials to lower its fees on facility rentals.
The facility use fees were increased in 2011 as officials scrambled to find new revenue when they cut more than 10 percent from the budget. The increase was criticized by some who argued it could alienate residents who have been long-time supporters of the school district.
“Raising fees was penny wise and a pound foolish,” said John Bachert, who is a member of the Master Gardeners, a group that stopped using Coupeville facilities after the fee increase.
He mentioned the group would have had to pay $3,500 for an event, which was a $1,300 increase over the previous year. The group ended up holding the event in Oak Harbor.
Board member Kathleen Anderson said the school district made a mistake when it increased facility fees last year.
“We didn’t look at what the ripple out would be,” Anderson said during the Coupeville School Board’s Monday evening meeting.
The school district last year slashed $1.2 million out of an approximate $10 million budget. Those cutbacks included the elimination of teaching positions and classified positions along with the increase in facility use fees.
Superintendent Patty Page admitted the school district tried to make a bit of money when it raised the facility fee last year.
Anderson added that the school district also increased pay-to-play fees for students to help resolve budget problems.
She said some people stopped using Coupeville buildings when the fee increase went into effect. Some groups absorbed the fee increase.
Page proposed changing the tier system the school district uses to determine a fee along with lowering the fees. The district would have three tiers: school affiliated groups and government agencies, nonprofit groups and organizations and, finally, commercial for-profit groups. Nonprofit groups would be charged between $5 and $10 an hour per room while commercial groups would be charged between $10 and $20 an hour per room.
The current fee structure charges $15 to $35 an hour per room for nonprofits and $20 to $40 an hour for commercial groups.
Page said that the fee is closer in line to those years prior to 2011.
“I don’t know if we’ll break even or not,” Page said.
Page noted that the school district’s favorable enrollment is a reason why the district is able to talk about lowering facility fees. The Coupeville School District currently has the equivalent of 79 more full time students than staff originally planned. Since the state bases funding on enrollment, that has meant extra dollars flowing into the district for the current school year.
Board member Don Sherman urged caution.
“We’re not in a position to go into a heavy financial drain,” Sherman said.
Anderson said she hopes the new fees will get more groups using Coupeville school facilities and restore respect of some in the community. Action may be taken at next month’s meeting.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Nathan Whalen at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5058.