School District Attempts to Balance Funds and Recreation

PALO ALTO, Calif. — In a country where citizens continue to demand increased performance from an education system that lost large amounts of funding to the recession, the political climate still reflects a strong distaste among the electorate for any level of tax increase, partially because the recession has also created such hard times for individual voters. This seemingly intractable combination of events has caused many school leaders and boards to turn to previously unseemly solutions for raising or maintaining funding streams. Many administrators are discovering that, in this dreary fiscal climate, there are few options that will make members of the public happy and no school district can avoid making tough decisions of one kind or another.

The Ravenswood City School District in Palo Alto is currently going through a process that is sadly representative of the “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” nature of this political and fiscal moment. The district school board voted in May to eliminate a discount rate, which allowed youth sports programs to use the district’s athletic fields or facilities for a more reasonable price than the district charged other organizations.

The rule change eliminated a rule that allowed these recreational leagues to pay a reduced rate of $5 per child, to use school facilities for an entire 12-week sports season. The change meant sports teams had to pay an hourly rate of $25 per field or $100 for a gymnasium. This means your average youth basketball team would spend more on fees for a single game than they previously spent on an entire season.

After receiving significant blowback from parents, students and coaches, the school board voted to temporarily reinstate the previous discount system at a meeting in late September, giving the board time to rethink its solution. The fundamental problem remains unchanged; the school doesn’t receive enough compensation from recreational sports leagues to cover the maintenance costs the organizations cause while putting on their events.

Though the district temporarily approved a reinstatement of the old fee schedule, it denied requests to make the change retroactive and give back funds collected from sports leagues since the vote in May. Board vice president Sharifa Wilson said the fee schedule changes were well intentioned and reflected the schools priorities.

“Over the last two years, we’ve suffered tremendous losses due to state budget cuts,” Wilson told the Peninsula Press “We’re trying to avoid affecting classrooms.”

A local indoor soccer league organizer told the board he was facing an increase in fees from $900 per season to $18,000, a cost that would probably have to be passed on to the league’s 150 players.

The board is currently looking into other sources for the funding, hoping it can get a slice of the cash from Palo Alto’s transient occupancy tax (TOT), or the community’s Measure C parcel tax, which supports violence prevention efforts. Many organizations consider after school programs to fit into a community based, violence reduction strategy, and 10 percent of the local TOT is dedicated to child, family, and senior services. Both of those funding sources already provided $100,000 in grants for local youth summer programs in the current fiscal year.