Rental fees lowered for school facilities

Southside Elementary School. Photo by Norman Schimmel

With staff having followed the directions they provided during their work session last month, the Sarasota County School Board gave staff immediate approval May 15 to implement a revised fee schedule for the rental of school property.

The revised charges will mean minimal profit for individual schools, district Facilities Director Jody Dumas told the board members during their May work session. A nonprofit group will pay $5 an hour to cover costs other than the expense of air conditioning, he said, such as the administrative expense for a school secretary to manage an event, as well as the cost of trash bags and the cleaning of restrooms. For-profit groups will pay $15 per hour for the same services, he noted.

Board member Shirley Brown said she felt that was fair. “Somebody at the school is the one that is working up the contract,” she pointed out. “It’s probably an employee we’re paying anyway.”

The district will continue to be reimbursed for the cost of running the air-conditioning system in any school for events taking place after normal school hours, Dumas said. That cost will be $53 per hour for a classroom, cafeteria or gymnasium, regardless of whether the renter is a for-profit or a nonprofit entity, he added.

“It’s based right off our utility bills,” Dumas said.

If a school already is open while space is being rented, Dumas pointed out, the district will not charge any fee. “We have no costs,” he pointed out.

“Overall, the goal is to break even, as you directed,” he told the board members.

The primary example for the new charges that Dumas provided May 15 was the cost of renting a classroom, cafeteria, gym or media center. A nonprofit group will pay a total of $58 per hour to rent those facilities, while a for-profit group will pay $68 per hour.

Under the previous fee schedule, a nonprofit group had to pay $84 per hour to rent one of those spaces after normal school hours, while a for-profit group paid $96 per hour. However, additional fees were assessed on top of those charges, including a one-time annual administrative “booking fee” that ranged from $115 for a portable classroom to $185 for an auditorium, football field or cafeteria, as examples, to cover the expense of school staff handling the rental contract.

Although board members in April had suggested a different fee schedule for commercial, for-profit organizations providing assistance to students — such as tutoring firms — Dumas explained that staff had found it more efficient to create just two categories of renters: for-profit entities and nonprofit organizations.

He had checked with a number of other Florida school districts, he explained, and learned that that was the procedure they used. “We’re doing something that’s typical around the state.”

In response to a question from Chairwoman Caroline Zucker, Dumas said he and other staff members had made the district’s principals aware individually of the changes the board wanted to see in the fee schedule, “but we have not gotten back together as a group.”

During the School Board’s April 17 work session, Superintendent Lori White had told the board members that from a principal’s perspective, any funds left over after costs were covered for a rental event were not considered profits, because of the work staff had to put into handling the individual events.

At that time, board member Frank Kovach had replied that while he understood that perspective, “this isn’t the principal’s school.”

On May 15, White told the board that administrative staff had made it clear to the principals “the board wanted to be open to the community [in terms of making facilities available for rental] … so it was in that type of culture we are offering this change.”

When Kovach asked for clarification on whether the district’s policy allowed school officials to refuse to rent property at their discretion, Dumas replied, “It does allow for us to say we are not going to rent to some organizations” because of the nature of those organizations. That decision, Dumas added, is left up to the superintendent.

Dumas also told the board that staff planned to revise the current rental policy to include “a couple of tweaks.” The board will be asked to vote on those changes during an upcoming regular meeting, he said.

However, he and White confirmed that, as the board members had asked, the fee schedule would not be made part of the formal rental policy. Leaving it out of the policy would make it easier to adjust the fee schedule if necessary in the future, White pointed out.

The new rental fee policy follows (click on image to enlarge):