Photo: Renting Belmont High School’s Higginbottom Pool will cost more if the Belmont School Committee approved fee increases.
Saying that teaching positions should not be sacrificed if programs using its facilities are not paying a fair rate, the Belmont School Committee was presented a proposal to increase the rent for two non-profit programs and a jump in kindergarten fees in the coming school year.
“So now we will be we equitable with other areas and we’ll be getting more money,” said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan at the committee’s meeting held Tuesday, May 26 at the Chenery Middle School.
Under the new fee schedule, two popular programs, the Belmont After School Enrichment Collaborative (the independent non-profit that runs the after school care programs at Belmont schools) and the Belmont Aquatic Team will see significant hikes in rental bills in the next two years.
Part of the impetus for a comprehensive review of the district’s rent and fee schedule came during the lead up to the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote in April, in which town voters overwhelming approved a $4.5 million tax hike to cover future deficits in the district’s budget.
“We have not raised fees in five years and we’ve been talking about” revisiting the subject no matter the override’s outcome, said Phelan.
The overriding concern facing the district is that the current rates doesn’t meet the costs of “keeping the lights on,” paying utility costs, cleaning the areas, having maintenance workers on site and other demands on the district to keep the facilities up and running.
Led by Tony DiCologero, the district’s Finance, Business and Operations director, the analysis calculated the cost-per-square-foot to operate a variety of spaces – the Higginbottom pool at the High School is far more expensive than a standard classroom – so the district could create a “baseline” cost to use a particular location.
DiCologero discovered the current sticker price for space did not meet the basic expenses required to manage the space. In addition, Belmont’s rental fees were well below the market rates of surrounding towns.
After the initial analysis was run, Phelan and DiCologero met with the two major users of school space – BASEC and BAT – to discuss the need for a “rethinking” on the fees.
“We see them as partners with the schools,” said Phelan. “They were expecting rate increases and were eager to refile contracts and we agreed to phase in the fee so not to pile on a burdensome expense in the next six month.”
Under the proposal, BASEC will see an increase of about a third to rent space in the six schools – 25 percent in fiscal 2016 and 7 percent in fiscal 2017.
In actual dollars, increases range from $7,400 to $5,900 over the two years with rental expenses reaching $29,425 at the Wellington, Butler and the Middle School, $23,406 at the Winn Brook and Burbank and $6,688 at the High School in fiscal 2017. The school district will see an increase of a nearly $36,000.
BAT will see a major increase in its rent over the two years of a proposed new contract. Currently, the squad pays what many consider a token fee of $13.28 an hour, using the pool for just over 500 hours for a total cost of $6,760.
Beginning in fiscal 2016, the rent increases to $50 an hour and then to $70 an hour in fiscal ’17. The increase will see rental fees jump by $28,000 over the two years to $35,000.
In addition to the fees, the groups will also need to produce a certificate of insurance and have their employees submit to a CORI review.
Phelan said he did not know what the rental fees would cost individuals as members of the effected groups, but he has heard the groups “will be able to absorb the new costs.”
Parents of incoming full-day kindergarteners will see fees increase either $400 or $600, depending whether Gov. Charlie Baker is successful in passing through the legislature a cut in an annual state grant that facilitates full-day K. If the grant money is not restored by either the House or Senate, the higher rate will be imposed.
Even with the higher fee – the first increase in four years – compared to surrounding town and private kindergarten, the cost for the program “remains a bargain,” said Phelan.
The proposal is before the School Committee and its financial subcommittee. It will be voted at the next meeting of the school committee on June 9.