Jul 28, 2014
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Malverne BOE Debates Who Can Use District Facilities for Free

The Malverne Board of Education discusses revisions to its facilities use policy.

Malverne BOE Debates Who Can Use District Facilities for Free

After months of postponing further public discussion of its facilities use policy, the Malverne Board of Education finally revisited the issue again during its Jan. 8 business meeting.

For the past year, the board has been working on crafting a more robust policy regarding who should be permitted to use the school district's buildings and fields, and who should be charged a fee to do so. 

Since installing an artificial turf field at Malverne High School in late 2011, part of a $14.1 million bond residents approved the previous fall, the district has had to settle disputes among local youth sports groups both wanting their fair share of time on the turf. 

Within the past year, Board of Education Trustee Gina Genti has also questioned whether some entities have been using the district's facilities free of charge for profit-generating activities, an action that violates New York State education law.

A more detailed policy would hopefully help the district address these issues and others that may arise.

Board of Education President Marguerite O'Connor kicked off the discussion last Tuesday by asking her fellow board members for their thoughts regarding the residency requirement set out in the latest version of the policy. It allows all organizations to use the district's facilities (with a proper permit) but only those comprised of at least 50 percent Malverne School District and/or the village of Malverne residents will not be charged fees. (O'Connor explained that the board decided to include the village because it allows the school district to use its facilities.)

Trustee Josephine Bottitta questioned whether this requirement would "unintentionally exclude" certain community groups such as Little League.

"This is probably the one organization whose lines are drawn by a higher authority -- the National Junior Baseball League decides who can play for Malverne Little League, similar to a school district map," Genti said. "That might be an issue there, but I think it would be negligible."

BOE Vice President Michael Taylor then stated, "Just because you live in Malverne that don't mean you have to play Malverne Little League. You can go to Valley Stream and play."

Based on his experience as a Little League coach, Taylor said, "District 29 has rules and regulations but ... A lot of organizations don't feel that they can be competitive with only kids in their neighborhood, so they go outside their neighborhood."

Taylor, who also is president of the Malverne Wildcats youth football program, supported keeping the residency requirement at 50 percent, while Trustee Gina Genti suggested raising it.  

"Having the 50 percent provides a balance, because now we live in a society, just like you can pick the school you want to go to, you should have the right to pick the organization you want," he added.

"You're accomodating rule breaking!" one resident exclaimed from the audience.

Bottitta and Trustee Danielle Hopkins both stated that they were comfortable at keeping the residency requirement at 50 percent, with Bottitta pointing out that some of these organizations are quite large.

Genti wanted more information about what neighboring school districts were doing.

"This is about a brand new facility and tax dollars," Genti stated. "As much as every child should be able to play sports, if you have an organization with 80 people and 40 of those children don't pay taxes to this district, then they should have to pay in some way to use the facility because we maintain it and we just spent $4.9 million."

But she then added that in her opinion, the bigger issue is whether the organization is "profiteering from the use of our facility," leading the conversation into a discussion of whether or not only non-profits should be permitted to utilize the fields free of charge.

The board also debated whether or not community groups should be permitted to practice on the turf field or if it should be strictly for games only. They also talked about whether pick-up games should be allowed on the expensive turf too, and if this should be restricted to residents only too. 

While most of these issues remained up in the air when the discussion came to an end Tuesday, the board will have another opportunity to work on the policy as it is required to hold one more public reading before it can be adopted.

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