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Editorial: Schools need consistent policy on renting sites

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Last year, more than 30 groups used seven of the eight Center Grove schools for activities such as meetings and fundraisers. Fifteen of those groups paid from $70 to more than $1,700 to use the facilities one or multiple times, while others paid nothing.

The rental fees Center Grove charges aren’t always consistent.

For example, the Wakefield Homeowners Association has used a large-group instruction room at Sugar Grove Elementary School for the past two years and was charged $147.50 each year for the rental. The Willow Lakes Homeowners Association used space at Center Grove Middle School Central and wasn’t charged anything, although the group probably should have paid something, according to a Center Grove building rental report compiled by school officials.

Center Grove officials regularly review policies, and administrators now are taking a look at the rental policies to see if any changes need to be made. That review is expected to be completed early this year.

Across Johnson County, nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses and groups usually can find space at area schools for meetings and events, as most school districts want to keep their buildings open to associations and clubs.

In this era of property-tax caps, it is vital for school districts to generate income whenever possible. But it is equally important that policies within districts be consistent and that buildings be accessible to the public as much as possible. After all, it is the local taxpayers who paid for the buildings.

The rental fees groups pay, which are agreed upon by school administrators and school board members, will vary depending on where they’re renting. School officials want to ensure that schools aren’t losing money, especially in paying for utilities and cleaning, because of groups or people renting gyms, auditoriums and classrooms after school hours.

Deciding who pays varies by school district. Most districts have policies splitting renters into three groups, which typically helps determine whether they’ll be charged to use the buildings as well as how much.

The first two groups include school-affiliated organizations and community or nonprofit clubs, such as PTO committees and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. These typically aren’t charged rent unless they’ll be using buildings on weekends or late into the evening, when custodians typically aren’t working and when lights, air conditioning or heat are turned down. In those cases, groups could be charged the cost of keeping the building open and paying overtime.

The third group includes businesses and for-profit organizations.

School buildings are public assets, and their use by community groups cements the relationship between school and community. Consistent rental policies will ensure the buildings are used properly and won’t cost the school districts and ultimately the taxpayers even more.

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