After weeks of discussion and opinion-sharing and nearly an hour into an agenda item on the issue this evening, the St. Michael-Albertville school board found they could not come to a consensus on whether to alter Policy 510, which currently prohibits the district from renting its facility space to outside organizations after 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Board members Kari Dwinnell, Drew Scherber and Gayle Weber wanted to keep Policy 510 in place as-is, which they thought would mean continuing to prevent STMA from renting its school facilities between 6-10 p.m. Wednesday evenings. On the other side, board members Jeff Lindquist, Jennifer Peyerl and Hollee Saville voiced support for changing Policy 510 in order to allow outside groups to rent the district’s facilities Wednesday evenings.
However, questions mounted as to which groups are able to rent school district facilities that evening, which were not able to, and why. Community Education director, Mary Ellen Barthel, said she has been renting Fieldstone Elementary out to the Northwest Bible Church on Wednesday evenings and the Sea Devils swim team has been renting the Middle School East pool, in addition to the Youth Hockey Association renting ice time Wednesday evenings. On the other hand, other youth organizations that are also outside school district control have been told they cannot rent facility space, such as the youth lacrosse, youth soccer, youth baseball and youth softball organizations.
These leagues are not run by community education and do not fall under school district jurisdiction and supervision, just as the Northwest Bible Church and Sea Devils do not. Therefore, the board determined that the school district has been incorrectly applying Policy 510 and that all organizations not under the jurisdiction and supervision of the school district can rent school district facilities Wednesday evenings. Policy 510 only excludes youth leagues that are under the supervision of the school district, such as community education sports and activities.
This misreading of the policy has been costing the school district an estimated $11,700 per year in rental fees, as this is the annual amount they said they could gain by allowing Wednesday evening facility rentals.
“I’ve always been told that I can’t rent on Wednesday nights,” Barthel said. “That’s basically what I’ve done, except when I came to [former superintendents] Dr. Ziegler or Dr. Behle and asked them. I did do the church, but that was the question: could they rent our facility [on Wednesday evening] since they are a church? And the answer was, at that time, yes. So that’s why we did it.”
The three board members in favor of changing the policy said their reasoning was, in part, that they didn’t feel the school board should be making the decision for families.
“The decisions about what sports or activities your children participate in, what nights they participate … that’s a family decision. That’s not a decision our board should be dictating,” Lindquist said.
As it turns out, Policy 510 had never given them that authority. With that realization, Scherber said that it was clear there was no consensus to change Policy 510, either to tighten restrictions or loosen them.
“Our practice doesn’t necessarily match the policy,” Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said, “and when this got brought up, I discovered that.”
“Practice hasn’t followed policy in the past due to past administrations interpretations of how it should be handed down to Mary Ellen,” Scherber said, while Weber added that it was never the superintendents’ power to say yes or no.
With that revelation, Policy 510 will remain as-is. However, practice will now change to reflect that organizations may rent STMA’s facility space Wednesday evening as long as the organization is not under the jurisdiction and supervision of the school district.