Saturday, June 14, 2008

Big Picture: Carlynton's directions -- not that way -- but this makes sense.

By Francesmary Modugno

Some elected school board members of the Carlynton School District are proposing significant changes to how the community uses our facilities. Their policy proposal is sure to cause great hardships to kids and families throughout the district. They want to limit children’s after school programs run by parent volunteers to groups consisting of 100% Carlynton students, kicking out their friends from neighboring areas. Groups that fail to meet that requirement would be shut down or forced to pay thousands of dollars in additional fees. Some school board members want to go a step further and ban adult programs from using the classrooms, pool, gym and fields.

Think again. Let’s side with inclusion and participation so our kids are kept off the streets. We should help the program leaders work with our youth so they have goals to shoot for rather than shooting at each other out of boredom and turf war madness. And let’s make our schools centers for education, culture and recreation for citizens of all ages. Our adult residents should see the schools as resources for them as well.

Curtailing opportunities by advancing a policy to limit programs to school-aged children is short sighted:

  • The proposed plans being pushed by some school board members would destroy swim lessons for our pre-schoolers - that's a safety issue!
  • Adult GED programs, AARP and Silver Sneakers would be barred – not welcomed at Carlynton.
  • Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and local youth groups with kids and volunteer leaders from other municipalities would get axed by the proposed changes, too.

Every Carlynton resident could be impacted by the lack of quality local programs because our kids are going to be hitting the street corners and not be engaged in positive, directed pursuits. The majority of people in the district would be denied access to the properties their taxes built and maintain. No more walks with friends on the track for residents. Walkers, use the streets and co-exist with the kids displaced there too, just hanging out.

The current policy allows youth sports teams and any group to use Carlynton facilities at cost provided the group's enrollment has 75% district membership. The activities with fewer district residents (below 75%) pay heavy fees. Even with this current policy, several youth sports teams told the school board they have trouble fielding teams. Allowing some non-residents to join our clubs gives local programs more stability, more income and lower-fees for in-district participants. Still, some directors want to push forward their agenda to curtail our children’s opportunities.

The May 27, 2008, school board meeting featured several leaders of our youth programs. These leaders clearly stated that changes to the after school policy will wipe out opportunities for our kids and impose additional burdens to our respective programs. Notes.

Schools need to be a part of our community. Families need to keep our kids engaged in safe, healthy, wholesome fitness and team building activities. With rising gas prices, we need to create more opportunities for our kids right here, near their homes. Because Carlynton is the smallest school district in the region, this can only happen if after school activities are open not only to our own kids, but to their friends in our neighboring communities as well.

Still, some elected school board members want to kick out neighboring kids from our programs and raise program fees. The organizations can’t afford those proposals and neither can local tax payers and parents. In essence, these directors want to impose on Carlynton residents an additional facilities tax for the use of school properties that we have already paid for with one of the highest millage rates in Allegheny County.

The reasons these directors give for excluding non-residents:

  1. Non-resident children take away opportunities from Carlynton children because the non-residents outperform Carlynton children (directors Brown, DiPietro and Schirripa)

  1. By allowing non-residents into Carlynton programs, we are “training the competition” and that’s the reason the Carlynton JV and Varsity teams don’t win more often. (directors Brown, DiPietro and Schirripa)

  1. School facilities are for the use of school-age children only. (directors Brown and Schirripa)

Their proposals are detrimental to all Carlynton residents, especially children:

  1. There is no evidence from any group that non-resident children are taking opportunities away from Carlynton kids. Furthermore, it is insulting to Carlynton children to imply that their peers from other districts are better than they are. Moreover, these directors are implying that they need to create artificial environments for Carlynton children to succeed because they don’t think Carlynton children can succeed on their own. That’s insulting, too.

  1. There is no evidence that youth sports groups “train the competition”. Nor is there evidence that non-district youth athletes are the reason Carlynton Jr/Sr high school teams don’t win more often. No way. If non-resident athletes get expelled, they would likely go elsewhere for training and enrich other clubs by keeping those teams’ costs in line. Meanwhile, Carlynton clubs would be unable to field teams and would fold. Sure, Carlynton clubs might not “train the competition”, but they would certainly not be training Carlynton children either. With the plans advocated by some directors, Carlynton's youth would have to go elsewhere and pay higher fees, if our kids are fortunate enough to have parents who could drive them places and pay more money for after school activities. Carlynton youths whose parents can’t provide this type of support would be left out. Their policy attempt to not “train the competition,” results in Carlynton youth athletes being less prepared to compete at the Jr/Sr high school level. Their proposals would backfire and ensure the exact opposite of what the directors are claiming they want to do.

  1. State law (SC 775) allows the use of school facilities by non-school age children and other groups. Carlynton residents have made a tremendous investment in the school facilities. As stated in the School District Policy: “..our schools are an integral part of the community and in order that maximum benefit might be derived by the school system and community from properties held by the district, should be available to the public for education and recreational use at such times when school is not in session…” While school property is primarily for school use, no where is it written that it is exclusively for school use. After spending millions of dollars on facilities, one would hope that the residents could get some return on their investment. This return comes via activities at the school.

The evidence is clear. Carlynton does not gain by excluding non-residents and Carlynton will lose greatly by doing so. The evidence confirms that Carlynton residents gain when our facilities are open to both residents and non-residents.

Many groups stated on the record:

  1. Non-resident help Carlynton groups field teams. Without the non-residents, these teams would fold. That would be lost opportunities for Carlynton children.

  1. Non-residents help in keeping lower fees for residents. Additional members, especially in lean years, help with stability and organizational survival.

  1. More members creates more competitive teams and encourages young athletes to strive to improve their skills.

The non-residents want to be in Carlynton clubs are our friends and neighbors who live in Ingram, Thornburgh, Greentree, and Scott. They live blocks away from the Carlynton elementary schools and down the street from Carlynton high school, itself located in the Montour school district. These non-residents want to be in Carlynton clubs because they are friends with Carlynton youths. Kids want to be in after school activities with their buddies. Some live closer to Carlynton than their own schools and many attend parochial schools, especially St. Philip in Crafton. They consider Crafton their “home town” – where they shop, worship, work, go to school and have fun.

Being neighborly helps. Carlynton Jr/Sr High School was built in the Montour School district. Montour provides gymnastic facilities to Carlynton because Carlynton has none. Let's return the generosity of our neighbors and go a step further by being the most welcoming school district around.

Carlynton is the smallest school district in the area. Plus, we have the greatest number of students on public assistance. Forty percent receive some form of federal aid. That’s more than twice the rate of neighboring school districts. Those districts offer programs and activities not found at Carlynton. Their policies are less restrictive than Carlynton’s current policy, welcoming non-resident youth. Let's hope those districts don't ever adopt a similar “no outsiders here” attitude put forth by some of Carlynton’s school board members.

At the April 17, 2008, school board meeting, the board members considered six (6) different proposals to replace the current policy. These proposals had numerous problems, including charging excessively high fees in the thousands of dollars to sports teams to host home games. The fees were far in excess of the actual cost of running the facilities.

At that meeting, the urge from citizens to the directors was to consider the impact of the proposed policy changes. The text and video of
the statements and discussions are online. Citizens pointed out that Residents already pay for the facilities through their taxes and charging groups a fee above cost to use facilities would be a form of additional taxation. Instead of excluding non-residents or charging a fee to groups that include non-residents, charge a facilities usage fee to non-residents, much the way many municipal swim pools do.

Counter proposal:

  1. Resident groups with a majority of district residents use district facilities at cost;

  1. Resident groups give priority in membership to residents; and

  1. Non-resident participants pay a small facility usage fee. Sure, non-residents do not contribute to the tax base that supports the facilities. The sum of $60 per year, (or pro-rated at $5 per month) represents 50% of the per capita cost of Carlynton facilities operation and management. This is more than fair compensation to the district because no group uses Carlynton’s facilities 50% of the time they are available.

In follow up meetings, the board heard more details about process:

  1. Team are ensuring maximum participation of Carlynton youths in clubs using district properties;

  1. Youth sports and other groups aim to create the best possible environments for members, thus insuring a fertile training ground for future Carlynton Jr/Sr high school athletes;

  1. Teams aim for fairness in the relationship with tax payers. Non-residents charges are equivalent to what tax payers are paying to maintain facilities. The additional monies would offset the cost of running the facilities, thereby decreasing the facilities costs to all Carlynton residents; and

  1. Carlynton parents benefit by avoiding additional “facilities tax” for after school programs.

In this way, Carlynton youths win, the taxpayers win and Carlynton maintains positive relationships with its neighbors.

Hopefully, Carlynton residents will stand up for their rights and protect their children’s futures.

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