By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PERU — A policy under consideration by Peru Central School Board on public use of district facilities has raised some concerns.
The intent of the guidelines, which have not yet been approved by the board, is to ensure the district is adhering to State Education Law Section 414, which addresses use of schoolhouse and grounds, PCS Board President Donna LaRocque told attendees at a recent board meeting.
The law prohibits groups and organizations with exclusive membership from holding events on school grounds.
It also prohibits for-profit organizations from charging admission fees to events in district facilities unless all proceeds are expended for educational or charitable purposes.
OPEN USE URGED
The district has no official facilities-use policy in place, and some community members have expressed concern that implementing such guidelines could have negative effects.
People work very hard to pay school taxes and should be able to use the facilities, former PCS Board member Alan Stafford said during the meeting’s public-comment portion.
“The more time you can get people coming into this school building for functions, the better off you’re going to be,” he said.
Community member Michelle LaPoint also spoke at the meeting, urging the board to vote against anything that would prohibit evening Zumba classes from continuing at the school.
PCSD Superintendent Dr. Patrick Brimstein told the Press-Republican in a separate interview that the classes had been taking place at Peru Central for a few years. However, after the board members began discussing the need to enact a building-use policy, they requested more information about that activity.
The Zumba group, Brimstein said, was asked whether the instructor was licensed to teach the classes, whether the group had its own insurance and if all the profits from the classes were used for a charitable purpose.
The board, he continued, received responses to just two of the questions, though, he would not say which two, and had delayed responding to the group’s building-use request until the third question was answered.
While there is a fee to participate in the classes, LaPoint told the board at the meeting, it is waived for all students and for any adults who cannot afford to pay.
Peru Zumba, she continued, was a “perfect exercise program for all ages, all shapes and all sizes” and provided an extended family for its participants.
“As a Zumba family, Zumba members would also give to various local causes, contributing to fundraisers for a community family that loss their home, food drives for local food shelves and money to give to schools for supplies, just to name a few,” LaPoint said.
“But Peru Zumba was not intended to be a profit program. It was the intention of the instructors to make a healthier and happier Peru community.”
‘HEART OF COMMUNITY’
Later in the meeting, Brimstein told attendees he appreciated Stafford’s comments, as they were in line with the points he, too, wished to make.
“The district has a very strong commitment to serving its community because school is the heart of the community; school is the place where entertainment takes place,” he said.
The district receives many facilities-use requests, the superintendent continued, but without streamlined guidelines in place, it’s difficult to ensure the law is being followed and that all requests are given equitable consideration.
“We have to honor and represent all interests, not just those that we traditionally have acknowledged and not just those of people who happen to know somebody on the inside,” he said.
While the board has put off responding to some requests until more information about the intent of the events can be gathered, Brimstein continued, “to the best of my knowledge there hasn’t been a board action, (and) there hasn’t been a disapproval on any request forms.”
The guidelines also propose imposing fees on some individuals and groups to use school facilities.
“They’re meant solely to cover the cost of maintenance workers who are in the building who will have to close up for cleaning after an event,” Brimstein said.
If implemented, the fees would vary depending on the type of group hosting an event and the specific space being used. They could also be waived for student and nonprofit organizations.
While conducting its first reading of the proposed policy at the meeting, board members elicited applause from the audience by stating they didn’t want to make district facilities off limits to the public.
“I don’t want to close off the school to the community,” said board member Cynthia Mills
“I don’t, either,” added fellow member Kathleen Wyckoff. “I think we all pay for it; we deserve to use it.”
The board took no action on the proposed guidelines but asked Brimstein to provide them with more information about use fees, as well as the laws governing use of schoolhouse and grounds.
“I think we need some real clarification as to what the law states as permissible and what the law states as not permissible,” LaRocque said.
The board agreed that until a policy is adopted, the district would treat facilities-use requests as it had before discussions of implementing such guidelines began.
This, Brimstein told the Press-Republican, allows Zumba classes to continue at the school for at least the time being.
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