Editor's note: This is the third in a series examining school district fees.
HESPERIA - The governing board of the school district here recently revised its policies related to facility use, a move that signals the return of a sports program canceled after the district began charging fees last year.
During their Nov. 7 meeting, Hesperia Unified School District board members unanimously approved revisions designed to ease the financial burden on nonprofits that utilize HUSD facilities.
HUSD Deputy Superintendent David Olney said changes were made to further clarify the intent of facility-use policy and regulation, and to align practice with that policy.
"The revisions clarify that nonprofit groups using our facilities, such as youth-sports programs that serve our community, will only be charged a fee if HUSD personnel are required to open or maintain the facility as a result of its being used," Olney said via email.
Other nonprofits that charge a fee or serve individuals outside the city and district will be charged direct costs, according to Olney, who said "other groups fall under fair rental value fees."
"We will review this policy in the future to ensure that we are achieving our intent, and make any modifications as needed," Olney said.
Approval of the changes came following a Daily Press investigation earlier this year that revealed the fees were jeopardizing the sustainability of youth-oriented nonprofits.
In one case, the High Desert Tennis Association was charged more than $11,000 in fees for use of Sultana High School's tennis courts, forcing the organization to cancel its long-standing Saturday Match Play program in lieu of paying the amount.
But the board's decision, which followed a meeting in September during which Assistant Superintendent of Business Services George Landon confirmed the changes would mean free use of district tennis courts for HDTA, allows for the program's return.
HDTA President Rick Golden told the Daily Press on Friday he would submit a reservation request within 28 hours for use of Hesperia High School's tennis courts. Golden plans for a January start date, but he said the program being defunct for nine months will affect turnout.
"Getting the word out will be difficult because people think (the program is) done," he said.
Saturday Match Play's popularity had been growing leading up to its cancellation, according to Golden, who previously said upwards of 20 kids - many the children of HUSD employees - were attending on given weekends.
Golden even mulled expanding the program to Hesperia High School's courts to accommodate more players, but he said that won't be necessary, at least initially.
Katrina Tano, who serves as treasurer and insurance commissioner for the High Desert Youth Football & Cheer Conference, called news of policy revisions "fabulous."
Last year, two of HDYFC's chapters paid nearly $6,000 to HUSD. Tano previously said the fees threatened the nonprofit's financial solvency.
"This alleviates so much pressure off the costs we incur," Tano said. She added, however, that chapters operating elsewhere - Apple Valley namely - continue to struggle because they pay fees to both Apple Valley Unified School District and the Town of Apple Valley.
During the HUSD board's September meeting, Landon said a number of nonprofits had migrated to Hesperia because fees in Apple Valley were "so much more."
"(Our chapter in Apple Valley) is paying double duty over there," Tano said, "Everyone is getting paid essentially."
Tano said Lenny Brewster Park, which is maintained by the town and utilized by one chapter for practices, is "not a fantastic place," adding, "It's either that or nothing. We're willing to take anything we can get."
Back in Hesperia, a Public Records Act request found that many of the nonprofits that paid fees to HUSD in FY 2015-16 were churches. Financial documents show that Firestarter Church alone paid more than $4,000.
Still, monies paid by nonprofits resulted in HUSD collecting just over $30,000 last year, a number Landon characterized as "not a whole lot." And the amount contrasts what the district charged - more than $62,000.
Landon said that difference is a result of fee waivers or organizations - like HDTA - not following through with payment.
Whether or not nonprofits pay fees depends on which of three groups they fall under in HUSD's fee classification, according to Landon. Entities in Group I - like the Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts and the YMCA - use facilities free of charge because they "promote" HUSD students.
HDTA and HDYFC - despite also promoting HUSD students - were included in Group II, which are nonprofits that use HUSD facilities in a manner that results in wear and tear, part of nearly $4.8 million in districtwide outdoor facility direct costs.
But that nonprofits are separated into categories to begin with does not sit will with HUSD Board member Cody Gregg, who has advocated for more uniformity with regard to policy and practice.
"I asked the district to look into that because if we're going to (waive fees) for one we need to do it for all," Gregg told the Daily Press. "My stance overall on this is that these are taxpayer facilities, and if it's a program that's going to keep our students and kids safe and off the streets where they're doing something productive, we should be supporting that as much as we can."
Gregg said that while the fees are lower, he believes the district "should do more."
"I want to get to the bottom number of how much it costs for every facility," he said. "There, of course, are overhead costs. We're pulling money out of our budget, but the taxpayers can't be paying for it."
An April 2015 study deemed the fees were "reasonable" as the public's "fair share" of direct costs, but Gregg described what some nonprofits paid as "outrageous."
"We need to make it reasonable and beneficial for all without making a profit for the district," Gregg said.
Despite lower fees, the issue is "not completely fixed," according to Gregg, who wants additional information from staff in order to address the situation more thoroughly.
During the September meeting, Landon made a number of recommendations to the board, including further revisions to board policy related to facility usage.
"... The current board policy is only one page," Landon said, "and looking at the samples of our neighboring districts, they were fairly lengthy."
Matthew Cabe can be reached at MCabe@VVDailyPress.com or at 760-951-6254. Follow him on Twitter @DP_MatthewCabe.