CITY HALL — Aiming to protect itself from liability and recoup the costs incurred from allowing various groups to hold events on school property, the district last week unveiled a revised permitting policy for the use of facilities on all campuses.
District officials for the past year have been working to overhaul the existing permit policy, which they characterize as lacking appropriate guidelines, leading to a large number of cases of non-permitted events at school facilities.
Carey Upton, the theater operations and facility permits director, said that approximately 50 percent of all activity in district facilities was not permitted when he first began looking at the policy in 2008. Only 25 percent of events that were permitted had paid the fee previously approved by the board, he said.
Today, about 90 percent of all activity on district campuses are permitted and the goal is to bring compliance to 100 percent.
“We were asked to take a look at the system and try to fix it,” Upton said during the Board of Education meeting on Thursday.
The district last year brought in about $150,000 in revenue from permit fees. That figure went up to $225,000 this year and is expected to jump to about $300,000 after the adoption of the revised policy.
The proposed policy breaks users of facilities into several different categories, charging them different fees depending on how closely associated they are with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) and how their organization benefits students and the use of schools. The policy is expected to be approved in the next several weeks.
“What we’re looking for is trying to create categories so we can clearly and equitably place each user group with similar types of users,” Upton said.
The policy distinguishes groups depending on their level of affiliation to the district. The categories include groups that are directly associated, like the PTA, whose existence is based on the district, and groups with looser affiliations, such as the Boy Scouts, which is an independent organization but has members enrolled in the SMMUSD. Then there are groups with no relationship at all with the district, such as businesses.
Depending on the type, groups pay different fees, with those more closely associated with the schools paying the least for permits. The PTA, which falls under the affiliate category, would not pay any permit fee, while organizations like the Boy Scouts would have to pay the community meeting fee, which is 10 percent of the commercial rate. The commercial rate falls in the highest bracket.
The cost of the permit also differs with the facility. For example, commercial users would have to shell out about $100 to use a high school cafeteria without a kitchen, while the Boy Scouts would have to pay $10 for the same space.
Upton said the policy is not meant to raise revenue for the district, but to recoup cost from the groups’ use of school facilities, covering small items like light bulbs, electricity, plumbing and toilet paper.
The policy will also address another major concern, indemnifying the district against liability.
“With so many groups not being permitted, it means we also don’t have liability insurance for them,” Upton said. “In some ways … the greatest threat with the use of our facilities is that someone would become injured, and through lawsuits, we would lose significantly and it would cost us more money than what we would ever raise in permit fees.”
The policy also addresses the recent issue surrounding the last-minute cancellation of a benefit featuring comedian Carlos Mencia at Barnum Hall. The event, which was supposed to raise money for Edison Language Academy, was canceled after the Santa Monica-West Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of Mexican-American Educators threatened to picket and disrupt the performance.
The incident prompted the district to hold a forum on appropriate uses of school facilities several months ago.
The issue is addressed in a few paragraphs under a section about approved activities, basically stating that the district can restrict events that may result in damage to facilities, disrupt approved activities, conflict with school purposes, or pose the risk of injury to persons or property.
The policy was met with some concern from organizations that have been holding events at school facilities for decades, including the Boy Scouts Troop 2, which meets at Lincoln Middle School.
“We are concerned about raising our costs in terms of the effect it will have on membership and the ability of some of our families to pay that extra cost,” Steve Marcy, the scoutmaster, said. “We believe that we provide great services both to the community and to the individuals.”
He said that the scouts support the school district through community service projects and in the programs they teach to their members, about 80 percent of whom are SMMUSD students.
Representatives from the Santa Monica Vikings, a youth football league, asked that district officials waive the two security guard requirement for home games at Santa Monica High School, noting that they have never had an incident. The organization also has several staff members that essentially act as security guards, monitoring the crowd.
“We recognize this is a tough time in the world and we’re not really looking to reduce fees,” Colin Maduzia, the vice president of the organization, said. “Our league prides itself on having very behaved parents.”
He said that many of the kids in the program are students in the school district. About one-third of the players are on scholarship.
“We’re essentially the football program for the elementary school,” he said.
School board members expressed support for relaxing restrictions for certain groups that serve students who might be impacted by the fees.
“There are some nonprofits that are wealthier than others yet here this policy is one standard,” school board member Oscar de la Torre said. “If that’s the case, then we need to find a way to make it possible for us to give the lowest cost for those type of organizations that are serving a great number … of our student body.”