School ren­tal costs shouldn’t leave chil­dren be­hind

Cost in­creases make ac­cess un­af­ford­able for some

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JU­DITH BISHOP Ju­dith Bishop is a for­mer school trustee and school board chair and life­long ad­vo­cate on ed­u­ca­tion is­sues.

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.

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