A new policy that outlines fees and requirements for using Tewksbury school facilities saw a second reading at Wednesday nght's School Committee meeting, and several residents spoke out in opposition.
At issue is a proposed policy change that would add a $15 per season participant fee for every member of any organization that regularly uses school facilities.
Several representatives of the Tewksbury Boys Basketball League (TBBL) spoke out in opposition to the $15 fee, claiming it would create a financial hardship for already over-taxed families struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate.
Chris Kingston, a TBBL board member, asked the committee to "Give us some sort of outline as to where the fee is going."
"This is something that is near and dear to our hearts," Kingston added. "We service 800-plus kids in the town ... and it's something that for many families would be an added, additional economic burden."
Patti DeFrancesco, who has had children participate in both the boys and girls basketball leagues and serves on the Tewksbury Girls Basketball League (TGBL) board of directors, claimed that existing tax revenues should cover the costs of youth programs utulizing school facilities. Under both the present policy and the proposed new policy, recognized youth organizations are not charged a rental fee when they use school facilities during their normally scheduled hours of operations. These hours extend until 11 p.m. on weeknights and weekends during the school year.
"My biggest concern ... is that our taxpayer money is already being used to keep the schools open during the time that these children are using these schools and I'm not really understanding where this money would go," DeFrancesco said. "If it's operating costs I would assume that's already covered in the budget."
Both DeFrancesco and TBBL board member Brian Lelos expressed concerns that the increased fees may prevent some families from participating in youth sports.
"It's already tough on people to pay for sports," Lelos said. "We have people that we know are financially strapped. Let's not hit the kids. Let's try to avoid that. You're hitting the children because you're hiting the parents and they're struggling out there."
School committee member Brian Dick, who chairs the policy use subcommittee, explained that the $15 would be consistent with the field maintenance fee that groups who use outside playing fields are currently charged by the town.
Organizations such as the Tewksbury Youth Soccer League have been paying $15 per participant per season for the past two years. The fee covers such services as field mowing and field lining, provided by the town.
"The new policy aligns with current town policies (for outside field use)," Dick said.
Other proposed policy changes include a schedule of increased user fees for outside organizations that want to rent town facilities. For instance, renting the high school gymnasium currently costs $30 per hour with no minimum number of hours required. The new fee would be $50 per hour with a $150 (three hour) minimum.
The new policy also requires organizations to carry increased liability insurance coverage in order to be eligible to rent the facilities. At present, a $500,000 insurance policy is required. The new regulations would require a $1 million per incident liability policy with a $3 million aggregate.
The new policy also requires all user groups to run CORI checks on all coaches and supervisors involved in their programs.
The new facility use policy would have some benefits to town organizations, however, including the creation of a list of 10 current youth sports organizations which would be designated as Recognized Youth Athletic Organizations and be afforded preferential treatment when requesting gym time.
"We want to make sure that our town organizations...get the 'first dibs' on the gym time," Dick explained. "We want to prevent other organizations from coming in and starting a new league and affecting the historical use of our organizations."
The new policy would also eliminate a current requirement that organizations must be comprised of at least 50% Tewksbury residents in order to rent a facility. There would be no residency requirement under the new policy.
Parental Advisory Committtees would also benefit under the new policy. School PACs are currently splitting custodial and kitchen costs on a 50/50 basis with the school department. Under the new rules the school department would absorb all of the kitchen and custodial costs incurred by the PACs.
"We feel that the PACs are an extension of our schools," Dick said. "They support our educational process and they raise money (to help) our schools to do a lot of things."
Under the new policy, the town recreation center building on Livingston Street would now be available for rent through the school department.
School Committee chairperson Krissy Polimeno asked for the public's input on the new policy before it is voted on at next school committee meeting on Oct. 26. Polimeno invited Tewksbury residents to contact either Brian Dick or committee member Dennis Francis, who also sits on the facilty use subcommittee.
"One of the things we're trying to do is be consistent with town policy and be fair to all," Francis said.