Fee to be covered by school district
By Margie M. Palmer
Green Elementary Athletic and Academic School students have long enjoyed participating in the end-of-term celebration activities that have been hosted at Lake Murray Park; this year, parent groups and educators are fuming that the city of San Diego is now requiring they pay for the privilege.
City representatives say the current San Diego Park & Recreation fee schedule was passed in 2010, and while the school has been using the park space long before it was adopted, Green Elementary Principal Bruce Ferguson said this is the first time city officials are enforcing the fee.
Parent groups have also pointed out that the Lake Murray Park Playground was installed due to a grassroots, community-based fundraising effort. Green Elementary School parent and former Lake Murray Playground Project board member Mat Kostrinsky said he’s shocked that the city’s response to the community coming together to do a good deed involves a $54-per-day permitting cost.
“The school is a not-for-profit group and we’re talking about kids playing at the park for three days; there is no bouncy house or sound stage. It’s a bunch of 6- and 9-year-olds running around,” Kostrinsky said. “The parents worked hard and spent a lot of time and money to make sure the playground got built, and the idea that we need to pay for it again is ridiculous.”
Parent groups have been lobbying Councilmember Scott Sherman’s office for a waiver since they learned the school would be required to pay to use the park; in a series of emails, a policy advisor in Sherman’s office responded that while the councilmember does not have the power to waive the fee, the school district agreed to cover the expense this year.
San Diego Unified School District Board of Education President Kevin Beiser said the city needs to ask itself what types of bureaucratic hurdles it wants to put in the way in terms of preventing children from using public parks.
“If this were an event for a big, for-profit corporation, I could understand the city wanting to have some sort of regulation or control, but this is a bunch of kids at a local elementary school who are wanting to use the park,” Beiser said. “The downside to this is that if the school district is paying that money, its money that is being taken out of the classrooms. It won’t be used to buy school supplies because if the school wants to use the park they’ll need to pass it onto the city.”
Green Elementary Principal Ferguson agreed.
“As it is now, we are operating on a bare-bones budget and every $100 spent at the school has an impact on our school and our students,” he said. “I am very disappointed at the city’s decision to charge for school events at the Lake Murray Community Park and am concerned for other less fortunate schools who may not have the ability to pay.”
Sherman has said these concerns haven’t fallen on deaf ears and agrees that a new city park permitting fee schedule needs to be adopted.
“When I first learned about this, I initially tried to pay for the permits directly out of my office budget, but was told I couldn’t do that because it was a gift of public funds,” Sherman said.
“We shouldn’t be charging these fees when people already pay taxes; the biggest problem these groups should have is that there are so many people wanting to use the park that they need to sort out the scheduling. It shouldn’t be fees,” he said.
Sherman said he intends to address the fee schedule, although that will be a longer battle with city bureaucracy.
“This will be issued inside the fiscal year 2016 budget debate, which will start in another six months or so,” he said. “It is one of our priorities and since I am on the budget committee, I’ll make sure the issue is addressed.”
—Contact Margie M. Palmer at email@example.com.