The school district facilities meeting presentation has a list of the proposed fee changes for groups using school facilities. The presentation contains a nice table clearly showing the existing fee structure and the proposed new fees. These fees would affect community groups such as the Wallingford-Swarthmore Community Classes, who uses rooms for classes, and NPAA and SRA who use the fields and courts for children’s athletics in addition to others. I’ve heard rumors the district is looking to charge the PTO’s and Home & Schools for some facility uses, but I don’t see anything in the presentation indicating that.
Overall, fees would mostly double for non-profits, which would be significant for these groups’ budgets. Commercial groups’ fees rise in some cases, but not all. Examples include, using a classroom would go from $5 to $10 for a non-profit while remaining fixed at $75 for commercial entities. The NPE auditorium would go from $15 to $25 for non-profits and $75 to $100 for commercial entities.
The old fee structure also had a $25 application fee, but its not clear if that’s being carried forward or not. A $25 application fee to use a classroom for $5 always seemed a bit strange. Perhaps more problematic for these groups are the other conditions. “Elimination of discounts; no need to charge less for more use.” This line seems aimed at those groups I mentioned above that sometimes got bulk discounts for regular use of school facilities. These leads to possibly more than doubling their costs.
This line, “Uses should be charged for 4 hour periods, instead of per event.” could lead to higher costs as well, but “Groups B and C will still be charged for costs incurred by the District (custodial, security, kitchen staff, if applicable,” is probably the most problematic because it leaves groups wishing to use spaces uncertain about what the exact costs of using those spaces will be. Security and custodial costs could easily cost than the $10 fee for the rental.
I’m not sure if the district made any effort to reach out to affected stakeholders to get feedback about the impact of this on their operations or get ideas from them about how the fee structure could be organized in a way that gives them more certainty about their expenses. Instead the district seems focused on increasing revenue. This is likely to drive increasing pressure on the township and boroughs to provide alternative spaces for events and athletics as the school district becomes an unreliable partner.
There’s a broader philosophical question that both the township board and the school district seem determined to avoid. Should taxpayers be able to use facilities their tax dollars fund at a subsidized rate? Community spaces are vital to the life of a community. They allow space for socializing, interacting, exercising and all manner of communal good. It provides space for the events that bring the community together. The historical newspapers are filled with events taking place on school grounds over the past 150 years. An argument should be made that subsidized event space is valuable to the whole community .
The other story is one that doesn’t appear in the financial presentation this week. Multiple sources have spoken to me about the district’s failure to properly withhold taxes for staff in 2022, leaving teachers and staff facing thousands in owed taxes and penalties. I’ve heard that some staff had nothing at all withheld, and in other cases staff that inquired about the low withholding were wrongly reassured that it was correct. District staff are understandably upset.
I’ve heard some administrators have been forced out – three payroll-related jobs (business administrator, accounting supervisor and payroll and accounting specialist) appeared on the district’s jobs page this month and I expect we’ll see resignations on the upcoming board meeting agenda. The administration held meetings with affected staff, but I haven’t heard if the district has pursued remedies. Teachers may have to deal with the IRS on their own, as ensuring taxes are properly withheld is ultimately each taxpayer’s responsibility. Even if the district sends the IRS a letter taking the blame, the IRS is under no obligation to waive penalties. And even if penalties are waived, district staff would still owe unexpected taxes and likely face the need to structure payment plans affecting them for months or years into the future. How will the district retain its awesome teachers if this is how they’re treated? Beyond the harm to teachers, staff and our district’s reputation, this also represents yet more turnover and upheaval in the district’s administration.
The information I’ve heard has spread by word of mouth. This points to the district’s ongoing communications issues as well (which itself has been affected by rapid staff turnover). The primary district meetings are once a month and I’ve seen no public statements about this issue. While there are subcommittee meetings in between monthly board meetings, those meetings only address items on their agendas, and this doesn’t seem to have been on any agenda yet leaving the once a month board meetings as the only public forum to discuss such concerns. Maybe we’ll hear more at the board meeting next week, but leaving something like this to spread by rumor for weeks seems like another example of a failed communications strategy.