Usage fee at center of debate

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REGION 16 — An ongoing discussion on the school usage fee for a before and after-school program at Laurel Ledge Elementary School was once again a topic of debate among school board members last week.

The United Day School has run a program at Laurel Ledge in Beacon Falls since 2002. The Beacon Falls-based business is owned by former Region 16 Board of Education member Wendy Oliveira, who resigned from the board last November.

United Day School currently pays the district $20 a day to use Laurel Ledge. The fee was set in 2002, without the approval of the board and never came up again for an annual approval, according to school officials.

The $20 fee came to light when the school board, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, was looking to implement a before and after-school program at the new Prospect Elementary School.

Ultimately, the board approved a revised fee schedule using a school, and put the before and after-school program at Prospect Elementary out to bid.

The board received three bids and the United Day School was awarded the contract. The United Day School bid $14,480 annually to run the program at Prospect Elementary. The figure was based on an $80 fee to use the cafeteria at the school set forth in the revised fee schedule.

The fee to use Laurel Ledge hasn’t been changed, yet. The board discussed the matter last week after receiving an email from Oliveira.

In the email, Oliveira said she realizes the fee at Laurel Ledge most likely needs to be increased, and requested the increase be no more than $15 a day to $35 a day.

Board member Nazih Noujaim, who wasn’t able to make last week’s meeting, said in an email to the board that he felt the fee at Laurel Ledge should be the same as the one at Prospect Elementary School.

Board member Robert Hiscox agreed.

Hiscox, who stressed he has no problem with the program, said the fee at both schools should be equal. He said there currently is a disparity between what parents are paying in Prospect and Beacon Falls, with Prospect parents paying a higher fee.

Hiscox added that United Day School bid $80 a day for the program at Prospect Elementary. He questioned whether the board could change the usage fee at that school, since the contract was awarded through a bid process.

“I think the integrity of this board is sitting on edge right now with regard to this item,” he said.

Oliveira, who was at the meeting, responded to the issues raised in an email to Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin and the board.

Oliveira wrote the rate charged to parents currently isn’t the same because when the bid was awarded for the program in Prospect registration had already gone out for the program in Beacon Falls, and the rates were set. She said the hourly rate at Prospect Elementary is currently a $1 more than at Laurel Ledge, and realizes the fee has to go up at Laurel Ledge. She said United Day School was waiting to see what fee the board would set for Laurel Ledge before increasing its rate to parents.

Oliveira contended, in the email, that the $80 a day fee isn’t reasonable and the fee usage schedule was never intended to be for daily users.

The consensus among board members was that its actions need to be equitable in both towns. However, not everyone was ready to move forward with setting the fee at Laurel Ledge at $80 per day.

Hiscox made a motion to set the fee at $80. However, the motion wasn’t seconded and the matter was tabled.

Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella said she would like to see another category formed in the fee schedule for groups that are directly related to children in the schools, like before and after-school care.