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 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.
“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.
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.