Guest Column: Senate Bill Will Ensure Equitable Access to Public School Facilities

Sens. Affie Ellis and Evie Brennan write, "This week, we introduced legislation to ensure our public-school facilities remain accessible for public use. It would prohibit school districts from charging excessive rental and usage fees for school district property."

CS
CSD Staff

February 16, 20244 min read

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Op-Ed:

By Affie Ellis and Evie Brennan

February 15, 2024

As parents of school-aged children, we see the value in providing afterschool opportunities to the young people in Cheyenne. Outside of school-sponsored activities, we know parents who volunteer their time to coach children in a variety of club sports. 

These parents and children have made do with the City of Cheyenne’s limited availability of public athletic facilities. Unfortunately, Laramie County School District #1 has closed its doors to these students.

We visited with a father who coaches his son’s 6th grade basketball team. The father tried to rent a facility to hold practice.

At first blush, the fee schedule calls for $12.50 per hour for an elementary school gym, which seems reasonable.

However, once you add in the potential $30 per hour in custodial staff charges, deposits, cancellation fees, and other potential "administrative fees," renting these facilities becomes financially unreasonable. 

Further, older elementary schools like Hobbs, Jessup, Buffalo Ridge, and Deming/Miller either have no gym at all, or have gyms that serve double duty as lunchrooms, with slippery linoleum floors and basketball hoops that are bolted to the walls making them unsafe and unsuitable for practice.

Thus, the father looked into renting junior high and high school facilities which the district has priced at $25 per hour, with additional fees. These teams are simply priced out from being able to use district facilities. 

In addition to the fee schedule, other parents have shared with us the onerous insurance requirements imposed by the district.

One volunteer coach told us he looked at options of securing a policy which would cost more than $1,000 per year, or extend coverage on his homeowner’s insurance to satisfy district demands for $1 million or more of coverage.

His comment, “it's frankly insane that I have to put my house at risk so that kids can practice basketball.”

These hidden costs can be hugely detrimental, especially for non-profits. As the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported last year, the Wyoming Storm basketball program received an unexpected $3,000 bill for using a gym. The organization had to divert funds that otherwise would have been used for travel, uniforms and equipment, and tournament fees.

This issue garnered attention in August of 2023 when a local youth swim club sued the district for charging exorbitant fees to use its pools. The club ultimately canceled lessons for its 120 students. As noted in the article and presented in court, the cost of renting out an athletic field, for example, can cost as much as $325 per hour. What’s more, the district has sought to impose a tiered price structure—meaning that one organization may pay more than another to use the same facility.

The impacts of these arbitrary and high costs are not limited to sports programs. As many parents here in Cheyenne know, club sports require a lot of travel, which helps drive economic activity—filling hotel rooms, restaurants, and shops. Without access to school facilities, clubs cannot host tournaments, which deprives our local businesses of revenue during our off-season.

We hoped the district would self-correct after the lawsuit was filed but it has decided to defend its fraught fee policy in court. Parents and students are frustrated, and they have asked for the Legislature to weigh in.

This week, we introduced legislation to ensure our public-school facilities remain accessible for public use. Senate File 84 would prohibit school districts from charging excessive rental and usage fees for school district property. Because public school facilities should be exactly that—public. After all, these are funded by you, the taxpayer.

We look forward to working with our colleagues to get this commonsense legislation across the governor’s desk.

Senator Affie Ellis represents Senate District 08 in Laramie County.

Senator Evie Brennan represents Senate District 31 in Laramie County.

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