The Oconee County Board of Education pushed back at least slightly last evening on a proposal by school administrators to begin charging the county Parks and Recreation Department fees for use of school athletic facilities on July 1.
School Superintendent Jason Branch, as part of a discussion of a new Joint Use Agreement between the county and Oconee County Schools, said he was seeking Board input on the length of a new agreement and on whether the Board wants to begin charging the county a fee for use of school athletic facilities.
The Board took no vote, but the consensus of those who spoke up was that the schools should begin charging a fee but it should be phased in, probably over three years, and that the new contract also should run no longer than three years.
The Board did not give any indication whether it thought the fees proposed by Branch and his staff were the right ones, but it also did not suggest that those fees were too high.
School Board Member Tim Burgess pushed back hard on the suggestion that the attempt to begin charging the county for use of school sports facilities was connected to the dispute between the school system and the county over other issues, including roundabouts on Malcom Bridge Road.
Burgess praised the school administrators for looking at the costs of the county’s use of the sports fields and coming forward with what he called “professional work behind the scenes” to improve the operation of the school system.
Proposed New Contract
Dallas LeDuff, director of student services for Oconee County Schools, in making his presentation to the Board yesterday, said he was seeking Board “guidance on our new facilities use agreement.”
The previous 10-year agreement is set to expire on June 30, LeDuff said.
“Due to the increasing demand on our facilities, and at the Board’s request, we have conducted a study to better understand the direct cost associated with the facilities use,” LeDuff said.
LeDuff said the school system had contracted with Facilitron, a national firm that does work on Georgia, to study use of the school system’s facilities and costs.
“They are a company that provides a facility management platform that streamlines facility scheduling and rental requests for schools while also providing real-time data on the cost of the utilization,” LeDuff said.
Facilitron used a formula developed by two nonprofit organizations to make the estimates of costs, LeDuff said.
LeDuff showed the Board a chart showing that said the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department is using school sports facilities for 2,836 hours in 2020, that the school system would charge the county $137,440 for that use under the proposed fee structure, and Facilitron said the real cost was $160,777.
Use by the county of school system sports facilities increased from 2,443 hours in 2018 to the 2,836 figure this year, LeDuff’s chart showed. LeDuff later said that figure had been 1,385 hours in 2013-2014.
Proposed New Contract
Oconee County Schools also uses county facilities, and LeDuff told Board Member Kim Argo he “calculated about 440 total hours” is the current school year use. LeDuff later said that mostly was for middle school softball teams.
“At this point,” LeDuff said. “I’d like to update you on where we are with our negotiations for the new agreement.”
LeDuff said he met with Lisa Davol, director of Oconee County Parks and Recreation, on Oct. 10, Nov. 21 and Dec. 17 and “we’ve also had numerous conversations and emails in that time period as well.
“During those meeting we discussed a range of topics, including usage fees, maintenance and insurance,” LeDuff said. “The director of Oconee County Parks and recreation was provided a draft...of this agreement on the Nov. 21 meeting,” he added.
LeDuff said “I know Dr. Branch has also discussed the new agreement with the county administrator. We have worked, the director of the parks and recreation and myself, we have worked collaboratively with the simplified language in the usage agreement as well as to capture our current practices.”
Justin Kirouac is the Oconee County administrator.
“The school staff and the county staff are in agreement in terms of the language in that contract,” LeDuff said.
“I would not be for, myself, any full-cost assessments,” Board Chairman Tom Odom said once LeDuff was finished with his report. “I’m not for that. I would be discounting, maybe, which I think is a good faith gesture.
“And, if there’s any cost, I think it needs to be phased in,” Odom said.
Bagley, referring to the old 10-year agreement, said “I don’t think the intent of this agreement really anticipated the increased usage. I think it was probably the intent was, in my opinion, to assist the rec department as they grew as well. And so its become more of a given instead of a stop gap now.”
“I don’t have any problem with their using our facilities,” Bagley said, “but I think it’s the fair thing to be compensated for the usage that is there. I agree with Mr. Odom that I don’t think we should get this all at once.
“I think it should be phased in,” Bagley said. “And I think it would be discounted. I don’t see any reason to charge them the full amount of the Facilitron cost study. Again, that’s cooperation between the two governing bodies.”
“What you’re highlighting is something that maybe we just haven’t really been thinking about but obviously has been occurring,” Board Member Tim Burgess said.
“You’re highlighting something that has grown exponentially, probably to your (Bagley’s) point, has gone well past what anybody would have anticipated or expected and is now a true expense within the school system’s operations just to maintain those facilities for a user that’s not an academic program sponsored by the schools,” Burgess continued.
Explanation For Request
“It is my understanding that this all came about as a normal course of business because the contract was nearing its end and 10 years is a long time and a lot of changes,” Board Member Amy Parrish said to LeDuff.
|Argo And Parrish 3/2/2020|
“We talked about this as early as last spring and the need to amend that date and make sure we had a new agreement before that November cut-off period,” LeDuff responded. The contract expires in November, but, consistent with the provisions of the contract, the school system has moved the expiration forward to June 30.
“I really want to say to you and Jason both how much we appreciate you bringing this issue up,” Burgess said. “That’s what you expect your professional staff to do–is to know what’s going, to do the professional work behind the scenes and then forward to a body like ours some suggestions, some ideas about how the operation has been working, how we improve it.”
“I’m vaguely aware some representations have been made that this is punitive or it is trying to be punishing of certain groups of people,” Burgess said. “And I think that’s about as far from reality as anything could possibly be. You’ve done exactly what we would expect you to do and analyzed what the financial situations of our operation are and suggest ideas about how to improve that or better prepare us.”
At the Board of Commissioners meeting last week, Commissioner Chuck Horton said “I don’t know if it’s a tit for tat with the school system with their issues with us, but to put it on families and kids when these youngsters are moving up through our rec program, play at the middle school and high school. I just think its unfortunate.”
At present, the issue is scheduled to be on the agenda for the Board of Education meeting next week. It also is on the Board of Commissioners agenda for tonight.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Board cleared the front of the meeting room and recognized the Oconee County High School Football Team as AAAA State Runner-up.
Eighty-eight individual students were recognized.
Head Coach Travis Noland joined the team members and was saluted by the Board.
The Board also recognized LeAnne Hale, the March Pursuit of Excellence Award Winner/Student Services.
The video below is of the March 2 meeting of the Board of Education.
The recognition of the football team is at 00:33 in the video.
The recognition of Hale is at 8:31 in the video
LeDuff came to the podium to speak at 16:30 in the video.
LeDuff responded to questions regarding the county’s fee structure for use of its facilities in a way that confused me.
I asked him for clarification after the meeting, and he said that the county has a fee structure for use of its athletic facilities but that it has not charged the school system for use of those facilities in the past and has indicated it does not plan to do so under a new joint use agreement.
That is consistent with what Davol and Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell have said.