Saturday, February 04, 2023

Oconee County Schools Plans To Increase Its Charge To County For Use Of School Sports Facilities

***New Joint Use Agreement Proposed***

One of the issues that has divided the Oconee County Board of Education and the Oconee County Board of Commissioners–the joint use of athletic facilities–is about to surface again.

Oconee County Schools Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff told Board of Education members at their retreat last month of his plans to move ahead with charging the county’s Parks and Recreation Department the same user fee charged to nonprofits.

None of the Board members pushed back on that plan.

Board Member Tim Burgess only asked that Board members and school administrators emphasize that the charge is to cover the costs of maintenance of the facilities.

LeDuff presented the Board with a proposed new three-year Joint Use Agreement with the county that would result in the county paying 100 percent of the usage fee charged to nonprofits at the end of the contract, rather than the current 60 percent.

Until three years ago, the county and the schools shared facilities without either charging the other, and the county still does not charge the schools for use of county facilities.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said on Friday he is waiting on a draft of the agreement from the Board of Education before he decides when to bring the issue before the commissioners for discussion and a vote.

LeDuff Presentation

LeDuff spoke for nearly a third of the roughly three-hour morning session of the Jan. 18 retreat, held at the Club House of the Georgia Club, just across the county line in Barrow County.

LeDuff At Retreat 1/18/2023

He was preceded by Susan Stancil, Chief Academic Officer of Oconee County Schools, and by Ryan White, Chief Technology Officer.

About 20 minutes into his talk, LeDuff turned to Facilities Use, and said “This is where we are with our agreement with the Board of Commissioners.”

The current agreement expires on June 30 of this year, he said, and “We decided to keep raising the cost to reach the nonprofit rate for Oconee County Parks and Rec.”

LeDuff said the conversation three years ago “was around our usage of their facilities and their usage of our facilities. Really what we came to realize is that they were utilizing our facilities a whole lot more than we were using their facilities.”

“And what was happening in the 10-year period before the agreement was that the school system was absorbing all the costs for maintaining those facilities with a tremendous amount of use outside of the programs that we sponsor,” LeDuff said.

The county has disputed that assessment of what transpired under the old agreement.

Discussion In 2020

Superintendent Jason Branch informed the county that the Board of Education wanted to terminate the 2010 agreement via a letter dated June 26, 2019.

In March of 2020, that letter came into the open when Lisa Davol, director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, asked the Board to increase fees for tackle football by $20 to cover the new school charges.

Commissioner Chuck Horton asked Davol if there had been any problems with the county covering maintenance costs for the facilities it was using.

“There has not,” Davol said. “In the last several years, we have paid the school system a custodial fee. We’ve paid them $25 an hour just to use the high school football stadiums on game days.”

“And there has been a few other things here and there in terms of some field maintenance that we have assisted with in terms of funding,” she said.

The agreement LeDuff originally presented to the Board of Education in 2020 would have imposed a fee starting in July of that year on the use of school facilities by the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department.

In response to the county’s reaction to the proposal, LeDuff revised the agreement so that no fees were charged the first year, the county was charged 50 percent of the nonprofit the fees the next year, and 60 percent in the final year of the agreement.

At the Jan. 18 meeting this year, LeDuff said the county would be required to pay 75 percent of the nonprofit fee in 2024, 90 percent in 2025, and 100 percent in 2026.

Exchange With Burgess

“The new agreement that we are developing,” LeDuff said, “we’ve had conversations with the Oconee County Parks and Rec and we’ve decided to move forward with the phasing in of those facilities fees at the nonprofit rate to 100 percent of the nonprofit rate at the end of the next three-year cycle.”

Schools Used By Oconee County Parks And Recreation
(Click To Enlarge)

When LeDuff finished his comments, Board Member Burgess turned to Superintendent Branch.

“I’m going to address to this you,” he said. “It has been unfortunate, the way this whole charge has been portrayed.”

“It all began with an attempt to address some of the increased maintenance costs that the school system was having to occur because of usage of the facilities,” he continued.

“We’ll never recover all of the maintenance costs associated with the use, but some of the costs for maintenance,” Burgess said. “But it is unfortunate the way it has been perceived and portrayed by different people.”

“As we enter into a new agreement, it may be more appropriate in terms of nomenclature and presentation to define this as a maintenance agreement,” Burgess said. “In our discussions, in our documents, that this is a maintenance agreement.”

“It is not a user fee in the terms of the way it has been portrayed as a user fee,” Burgess said. “It’s a maintenance fee.”

“That is a great point,” Branch responded.

Other Users

“I also believe the nonprofit rate is at least 50 percent less than the actual charge that we would charge if an outside entity wanted to rent the facility and even then you’re not covering the maintenance of the facility itself,” Branch said.

“I do think that is the challenge as we continue to grow as a community and the Board of Commission and the Rec Department work to try to increase facilities that they have, too,” Branch continued. “We want kids to be engaged.”

Burgess responded to Branch, saying “I think it is encouraging that they have finally recognized the need to maybe expand the level of facilities that they have in the Rec Department.”

“I saw some of the plans that they put out,” he said. “Finally, they are moving in that direction. I think that is positive.”

LeDuff said the expanding activities of Oconee County Parks and Recreation “does create a real burden on our facilities, which makes less of an opportunity for an outside person to come in and lease those facilities.”

“We are clear about that to Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department,” he said. “We can’t guarantee that as we continue to get bigger and their programs continue to get bigger that that space is always going to be available.”

Released plans for the proposed new park at the Land Application System site on Rocky Branch Road show multi-use sports fields and two proposed gymnasiums.

Facilities Used

According to Oconee County Parks and Recreation Director Davol, the county is using for Fall programs the Oconee County Middle School Micro and Football fields, the Malcom Bridge Middle School football field, and, for games only, the North Oconee High School and Oconee County High School stadiums.

Parks Used By Oconee County Schools

For Winter programs, the county is using the gyms at Oconee County Middle School and Malcom Bridge Middle School and the auxiliary gym at Oconee County High School, she said.

The county also is using gyms for Winter programs at Colham Ferry, High Shoals, Malcom Bridge, and Rocky Branch elementary schools, according to Davol.

In the Spring, the county uses the micro field and football field at Oconee County Middle School.

“OCS no longer partners with us for summer sports programs,” she wrote on Friday. “Thus we run our own camps at park locations.”

For Fall programs, according to Davol, Oconee County Schools uses the county’s softball fields at Oconee Veterans Park and the covered arena at Heritage Park.

In the Winter, Oconee County Schools uses Herman C. Michael Park and sometimes Oconee Veterans Park for forestry programs, and Heritage Park for a livestock show, she said.

In the Summer, the schools use Oconee Veterans Park and Heritage Park for Cross Country practice, Davol said.


In response to the decision by Oconee County Schools to charge the county the nonprofit fees for use of its facilities, the Parks and Recreation Department has added a school use fee for its affected programs.

According to the Budget approved by the Board of Commissioners for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, the Parks and Recreation Department has added the school use fee to youth programs for basketball, cheerleading, tackle football, and soccer.

The basketball and tackle football school use fee is $35, bringing the individual fee for basketball to $145 and for football to $240. The other fees are $5 per person.

The county adds a $35 school use fee for high school intramural basket league play, bringing the total fee to $145 per player, and $5 for soccer league play, bringing the per person fee to $105.

Adult basketball team fees also include a $35 school use fee for individual players, bringing the total team fee to $600.


Caitlin Farmer, a reporter for The Oconee Enterprise, attended the School Board retreat on Jan. 18 at the Georgia Club and wrote two stories covering the wide range of topics presented to the Board that day.

Farmer’s stories appeared at the bottom of the front page of the Jan. 26 edition of the Enterprise and at the top of page A3 of that edition of the paper.

The Board of Education did not record the meeting.

Farmer and I had agreed in advance that it would be helpful to the public and to me to have a video recording of the meeting.

I lent her a camera and tripod, and she placed it at the rear of the room, as allowed by Oconee County Schools.

The audio quality of the recording is poor because of the distance from the speaker, who was at a podium in the front of the room, and because of room noise.

In the afternoon, a tremendous amount of banging and other noise was coming from an adjoining room.

The first video below is of the morning session. I will upload the afternoon video with another story I will write.

Because of difficulty in getting the video situated correctly as the session began, some of the welcoming comments and initial comments of Susan Stancil, Chief Academic Officer for Oconee County Schools, were not recorded.

LeDuff began speaking at 1:32:29 in the video.

He turned his attention to facility use at 1:48:47 in the video.


Retired teacher Lawrence said...

Honestly, I see the arguments about charging OCPRD for OCS property use from the different sides involved, but I wonder if there is more we are not seeing. I look forward to the draft that LeDuff puts forward to the John Daniell and the county commissioners.
Thanks very much for the great coverage and reporting to you and Ms. Farmer.
-David Lawrence

Ian Taylor said...

How is it even possible that the school system (funded by Oconee County Taxpayers) can charge the County (funded by those some tax payers) for anything? This just constitutes another tax on the taxpayers.

Forcing the citizens of the county to double build everything is outrageous.

Doesn't the school system still have a multi million fund balance, that is over and above their own guidelines? But still, they want more money from the citizens. When does it end?

It is about time the school system realized they are there for the benefit of the county, not the other way around.

Ian Taylor

Unknown said...

As an Oconee County taxpayer, I hate the School Board double taxing the parents. All these facilities belong to the taxpayers, not to the School Board, who manage them. The Oconee County Parks Department is not like any other "non-profit". It is a taxpayer funded department. I don't know why the parents don't complain more about these school board actions which leads to higher costs to use these facilities. Since the board keeps getting re-elected, I guess most parents are happy with paying these fees, regardless of whether they call them "user fees" or for maintenance.

I do think the county should reconsider whether to charge the school board for use of county facilitie to offset some of the fees the school board charges so that the Parks Department might be able to reduce the fees on the parents.

Jeanne Barsanti

Dan Magee said...

Indefensible. Inexcusable. Embarrassing.

In most counties in Northeast Georgia, the Parks & Recreation Department and Board of Education work closely together to serve the county's youth, whether sharing facilities, equipment, clinics for rec coaches by high school coaches, etc., etc.

The same kids who attend the schools are the same who participate in rec sports, camps, etc.
The Oconee School System is the outlier.

This reflects solely on the leadership and philosophy of Branch, LeDuff, Amy Parrish, Kim Argo, Ryan Hammock, Michael Ransom, and Tim Burgess. These seven and no on else. And it is double taxation.

Hey Tim Burgess, I am proudly one of the "different people".


LeDuff said the expanding activities of Oconee County Parks and Recreation “does create a real burden on our facilities, which makes less of an opportunity for an outside person to come in and lease those facilities.”

Sorry kids sports & camps at school facilities is a..."real burden"
Hey, at least use the alleged "lease" revenue to light the tennis courts at NOHS & OCHS (like all the neighboring county school systems do) and add some more middle school sports.


Note: There were no fees between OCSS and OCPRD from 1989 through 2020. Then School Supt. John Jackson and then OCPRD Director John Gentry crafted this agreement; well worth the read:


From the Oconee Enterprise:
"After denying that charging the county for use of school facilities was a punitive measure, Burgess emphasized the BOE's disapproval of the county's push to place roundabouts in front of Malcolm Bridge Elementary and Middle schools."

Without a hint of irony.

Dan Magee said...

And this below from Gentry, the highly respected former OCPRD Director:
(Part one)


Members of the Board of Education:

Let me apologize for not being able to attend your meeting on Monday to deliver my remarks in person as I am in Texas visiting some of my Soldiers conducting pre-training for an overseas deployment. I am submitting my response to your consideration to significantly increase fees for OCPRD (ultimately citizen participants) use of school facilities. As one of the individuals who drafted the previous Joint Use Agreement in conjunction with Dr. Jackson (with both boards input and ultimate approval), I feel led to provide my disappointment in your intended discussion and ask that you re-consider the path you are heading.

I realize very few people now work for OCS, sit on the BOE or the BOC, that were present for discussion and development of the previous Joint use agreement and hopefully I can provide some intended background. Dr. Jackson and I both believed in maximizing the use of county facilities (recreation and Schools) in order to keep from having to build more facilities for programs (recreation and school) use. The targeted facilities were elementary gyms, middle school gyms, football stadiums/Fields with Lights/multi-purpose fields and girls fast pitch fields as OCPRD did not have enough of an inventory to support current and projected participation levels and middle school programs did not have softball fields and other school programs would only grow as well. Again, the thought process was to maximize the use of existing county infrastructure knowing that building the amount of facilities required to support programming at the recreation/school level for county citizens would be cost prohibitive for the foreseeable future. With the highest percent of recreational participants being under the age of 10, we also tried our best to program the youngest players for the earliest time slots and avoid Wednesdays for younger participants and families. These programming parameters are unique to our community and a primary driver for why school facilities were and are essential to facilitate recreational programming in our community. This programming plan was intentional in an attempt not to keep younger participants out late on school nights and allow families to have their own time or opportunity to attend a church program on Wednesday. It was identified that OCPRD would obviously use more of school facilities than school programs would use park facilities; however, by developing a joint use agreement, we felt that this was sustainable for school programs such as FFA, 4H, cross Country, HS/MS Softball Tournaments, MS softball programs, Soccer 7V7 tournaments, volleyball tournaments, OCS school administrator and teacher instruction at the community center, school field days, etc.

I am a strong believer that the taxpayers (for county and school facilities) are the bill payers for construction and operations of the facilities that OCS and OCPRD are charged with managing. I do not believe in making the same taxpayer pay for public use of the same facilities for common, good sense, public programing. When I say public, I mean programs (school and recreation) that are made available for the 100% of county citizens (open enrollment) that want to participate within the registration and administrative policies of the program. Private league programs that are based in or out of county and/or solicit out of county participants or are for profit entities should and always pay a premium for use of any school or county facility. I do believe that participants should pay for the unique costs of the program (uniforms, officials, equipment) or in school athletic team cases, booster clubs offset these costs. I personally do not believe Oconee Little League should pay for use of recreation fields for the same reasons. I lost that fight years ago.

Dan Magee said...

Part Two:

With the above stated, we (Oconee County citizens) have a unique opportunity to keep costs for all county citizen participants who want to participate at a minimum using the facilities OCPRD has in partnership with OCS. This should be mutually agreed upon by all elected officials (BOE and BOC). Despite what some may think, not everyone in Oconee County achieves the median household income ($77,388). You more than any other body of elected officials should understand this with your review of approximately 20% of enrolled school children are eligible for free or reduced meals. At the end of the day you and the BOC should boast that the purpose of county facilities is to enrich the lives of all citizens and that your partnership to provide low cost after school extracurricular programs (school and recreation) is unwavering and unique to our community.

In summary, I encourage you to reconsider the intended fee increases you plan to assess OCPRD for use of school facilities and I expect the same of the BOC for OCS use of park facilities. This charge will only pass directly to the participants and ultimately will discourage some families from participating. Our lower income families will be most affected. Instead, I encourage you to be bold and not charge at all and demand the same for use of OCPRD facilities. Also, I encourage you to develop an agreement for those facilities that are predominately shared (school and recreation) that splits costs (% use basis) for the replacement and/or renovation of these facilities IOT keep them top notch. These are costs that we as citizens can support and one (using E/SPLOST) that is borne by all who spend money on Oconee County. Be the bold elected officials we want you to be and make Oconee County unique by re-investing in our youth and re-energizing the partnership with the BOC for the good of our community.

John T. Gentry, Jr.
Concerned Oconee County Citizen

Dan Magee said...

Do you know how much the county charges the school system to station deputies to direct morning & afternoon traffic at various schools?
And bless those deputies hearts as that's a difficult & treacherous duty

Lee Becker said...

The county pays for these deputies.

Lee Becker said...

I have been able to get clarification on this. The deputies working the school entrances are doing that work for supplemental pay, not as part of their regular assignments. The costs of the Sheriff's Office are part of the county budget, and these additional expenses are paid for by the county.