School rental costs shouldn’t leave children behind
Cost increases make access unaffordable for some
Schools are public places paid for out of public taxes. Already designed for children and youth, they provide obvious places for use of youth before and after-school activities.
School boards have been pressured to increase the rents charged to community groups using school premises. For example, the Ministry of Education’s Technical Paper of 2016-17 charges school boards to calculate the “costs involved in keeping schools open after hours such as heating, lighting and cleaning.” Cuts to the operational funding of schools that are not at full capacity have also driven school boards to consider alternative sources of funding. As a result, rental fees have been increasing, although these are not uniform across the province, and a local board still makes no charges for before and after licensed programs. A provincial review of these charges both to child care operators and to other community groups is being considered.
In the last two years, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) has revised its rental rates and abandoned more generous past practices. The Community Use of Schools Rental Rates Report, June 9, 2016, states that charges will be calculated using “a cost accounting tool that calculates the cost per square foot to operate our facilities and applies this cost to the area rented to determine a rate per hour.” This combines direct and indirect facility costs.
In future, outside groups will be paying for the actual cost of operating the space they rent in that time frame, not just the additional costs incurred by outside groups, although offset by the Community Use of Schools grant and Priority School funding. This has resulted in large increases. Licensed before- and after-school child-care programs, which only two years ago were charged no rent, are now having to pay rental costs. For other youth groups the costs have been compounded by the removal of flat rates and their replacement with hourly rates. The June 1, 2016, presentation to the Finance and Facilities Committee shows that a basketball association which rents space twice a week for three hours of use will now be charged $1,800 compared to $210 in 2016.
Rental increases affect affordability and accessibility. Not-for-profit groups can only respond to fee increases by charging higher fees or closing their programs. There is already public concern about too many children not doing enough physical exercise. In Hamilton, the HWDSB 2016 EQAO report shows that in 2015, 17 per cent of Grade 3 children and 15 per cent of Grade 6 children never participate in sports or other physical activities after school. The same report shows that 34 per cent in Grade 3, and 42 per cent in Grade 6 never participate in after-school art, music and drama, and 57 per cent in Grade 3 and 59 per cent in Grade 6 never participate in after-school clubs. Increased rental charges will lead to diminished engagement in after-school activities.
Child care is already expensive and unaffordable for many. Increased costs push parents into making less than desirable childcare arrangements because they are more affordable. Increased rental costs also add to agencies’ per-diem costs, which are used by municipalities to calculate subsidy rates. As per-diem costs rise, so the number of subsidies a municipality can afford to provide to f amilies for child care is reduced, unless compensated by the province. Subsidies provide access to quality care for those children research has shown benefit most. This is of particular concern in Hamilton, which has a large number of children living in poverty, and where presently there are insufficient subsidized child-care places for all who are eligible.
School rental increases can lead to diminished access to sports and physical activities, to other extracurricular programs, and to regulated child care. Rental charges can lead to underfunded school boards preying on underfunded not-for-profit community agencies and groups. The promised review of school rentals is an opportunity to consider rental fees from the point of view of affordability and accessibility, and develop a coherent integrated children’s system in which all actions benefit children and youth.