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ImageThe Lansing Central School District will begin charging facility usage fees this year.  The move has been prompted by the poor economy and the severe cuts in state aid and other district revenues.  Swirling at the center of this issue like the eye of a hurricane is a controversy involving the Lansing Community Aquatics Team (LCATS).  Last month Sue Dean, whose daughter Kali swam on the Lansing varsity team for five years and qualified for state championships each of those years, slammed the team in a school board meeting.

Dean charged that the team violates a school policy on the use of district facilities, saying that it is exclusive, that swimmers are subjected to verbal abuse, and that coaches discourage participation on the kids' school teams.  She asked the Board Of Education to look into her charge of exclusivity, which is forbidden in the 'Community Use of School Facilities Policy,' and charged that other parents had urged her to speak for them because they feared reprisals.  She said Kali had been denied the opportunity to rejoin the team before going to college, and she urged the board to charge the club for pool and facilities use.

Since Dean's appearance board members have been inundated with letters and e-mail defending the club, and at Monday's meeting many parents and swimmers came to support Jamie Ferris, a Lansing graduate, parent, and LCATs member, who said he had been asked by other team parents to provide the board with a 'true and positive view' of the team. 

LCATS swimmers and parents filled the high school library
to support the club at Monday's school board meeting

Ferris said that the members from outside of Lansing is a testament to the quality of the program, which he characterized as a feather in the cap of the community, and noted that the relationship between club and school swimming is symbiotic.  He also said the club has donated thousands of dollars of equipment to the school district, and he defended the coaches, saying they are respectful, dedicated, and positive toward all club swimmers.

"LCATs is a very inclusive club," he said.  "Most of our members come from Lansing and are your friends and neighbors.  The club is highly supportive high school varsity athletics.  Almost all of our eligible swimmers swim for their high school teams, both varsity and modified."

Ferris also noted that the LCATS have been talking to the school district about paying a fee for facilities use.  He said that other groups do not currently pay usage fees.  Superintendent Stephen Grimm says that district and club officials have been talking about instating usage fees for the past year and a half, and says that the fees schedule he presented Monday is based on a plan submitted by the LCATS.

Grimm says that the fees will be instated for almost all groups that use facilities ranging from the pool to the track and football, baseball, soccer and other fields, the middle school auditorium, cafeterias, and the weight room and wrestling room.  He notes that because the LCATS use the pool facilities so much the club naturally became a focal point for the discussion.

"In this last budget round, it really came up," he says.  "We identified that the pool facilities alone were costing us in the neighborhood of $110,000.  By staffing it with people it came to between $250,000 and $300,000.  The budget process brought out a lot of people that overwhelmingly supported the pool, from LCATS to former swim team members.  We got letters from people that said training at the pool saved their lives, and from people that had saved other peoples' lives.  We knew that we were going to charge the LCATS something.  There wasn't any more talking about it.  We knew we had to come up with a fee schedule that would be appropriate."

The district will charge $30 per day or $15 for a half day of using the pool, plus the cost of a lifeguard at $20 per hour.  The fee for the weight room will be $20 per day or $10 per half day (with four hours or less defining a half day, and more than four hours being a full day for the purpose of assigning fees).  The school auditorium is the most expensive, at $200 per day plus a qualified audio-visual technician at $20 per hour with a $30 minimum.  Cafeteria use will go for $100 per day.  The track and field will cost $10 per day with an additional $40 per hour if the lights are used.

Grimm says that these fees will more than cover the district's expenses plus contribute somewhat to pay for wear and tear.  He says that the fees may go up once the district sees how they succeed or fail to cover the costs.

In general school programs will not be charged unless it costs the district money it wouldn't otherwise have spent.  For example if a dance is on a Saturday night they will have to pick up the cost of a custodian.  But because of budget concerns the football team's night games will each have a sponsor that will cover the $200 or so needed to light it.  Other teams may find themselves taking a similar approach.  'Community Partners' such as the Lansing Community Council, Lansing Lions Club, and the Town will be exempt, except for additional costs.

"We won't be charging the Town of Lansing," Grimm says.  "We look at them as community partners.  We receive so much from the Town of Lansing in terms of the work that they do with and for us.  We look at them as brother and sister."

Grimm is careful to separate Dean's issues from district concerns.  He says that the district has no issue with how a private club is run unless it breaks district policy.

"Sue pointed to one of our policies," he said.  "We're investigating whether or not it is being violated.  The LCATS have been partners with the district for a long time.  Regardless of changes they have gone through, the LCATS are the LCATS.  But if there are any problems related to our policy we're certainly going to share it with them so that they can have the opportunity to do what they need to."

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