A string of people affiliated with Club Cactus Juniors Volleyball walked up to the microphone at an Oct. 7 meeting of the Amphitheater Public Schools governing board to express their displeasure with the high cost of renting a gym for practices.

Also on the agenda that evening was the consideration of a new list of fees for renting school facilities - one that meets the requirements of a recently modified state law.

The school district now charges $190 to nonprofit groups for a two-hour rental of a high school gym, and $70 for each additional hour.

The volleyball team, which practiced at school district facilities for six years at significantly lower rates, stopped renting from the school district in 1999 when rates increased. As a nonprofit league, the club qualifies to rent a high school gym from Tucson Unified School District at $30 an hour.

"After some attempts to try to use the gyms, and after being told that was the rate, we ceased to use Amphi," club director Jonathan Norris said at the meeting.

The club would like to use Amphitheater School District facilities, though, because some of its members have to drive farther than they'd like to practices.

The regular cost to community groups for a high school gym in Tucson Unified School District is $120 an hour. Alternately, Marana Unified School District charges nothing for use of a high school gym by nonprofits.

As the governing board considered a new list of rental fees that meet Arizona's new requirements, it also considered new guidelines for waiving the rental fees for certain groups.

Whereas state law used to allow the district to waive the fees of any group of its choice, it now only allows waiving fees for groups that serve the educational mission of the district, said Todd Jaeger Associate to the Superintendent and the district's legal counsel, at the meeting.

It also requires school districts to set up guidelines for awarding fee waivers, and to charge other groups at least enough to cover the costs of utilities, supplies, and services including custodial work.

Vicki Balentine, the district's superintendent, said the groups on the current fee waiver list are ones that have contracts to that effect with the school district - many that go back a long time.

Norris pointed out that his club had bought sports equipment for the school district, including poles, nets and volleyballs, and that it had also provided the school district with uniforms.

He argued that the club should still get to pay the low rent fees it paid in the mid-1990s.

"If having a history or contract with Amphitheater Public Schools is essentially the only criteria needed, along with being a 501-C3 nonprofit organization or meeting needs of students in the community, then we should have been on the list all the time since 1994," he said.

The string of Club Cactus Juniors Volleyball speakers at the microphone included club members who attend Amphitheater Public Schools and their parents.

About 30 percent of students in the club attend Amphitheater Public Schools, according to Norris.

Steven Madsen, a student at Canyon del Oro High School, told governing board members that volleyball is different from other sports in that almost no one is recruited for college from a high school team. Rather, recruiting most often is done at club tournaments.

"No matter how good I am at CDO high school, any hope I or any others at CDO have to play in college rests with the success of our club," he said.

David Hallowell, also a student at Canyon del Oro High School, pointed out that colleges look for extracurricular activities when selecting students for college.

"The amount of money that we have is really limiting people's ability to play on the team," he said.

Jim Ingram, the parent of a volleyball player, said more students would have attended the school board meeting if not for that fact that Ironwood Ridge and Amphitheater high schools were competing in a volleyball game that evening.

He also said gyms at Amphitheater Public Schools are not available at a reasonable cost, and the groups with fee waivers generally are not groups that use gyms.

MarciBeth Phillips, the mother of a volleyball player and a former club coach, said that when she was involved in practices in Phoenix, she saw groups finding creative ways to cut rental costs.

The clubs cleaned after themselves and paid to stock the bathrooms with toilet paper and paper towels, she said. All of the coaches made sure they had cellular phones so they could be reached and could call out in the case of emergencies.

Earlier in the evening, Jaeger had addressed that idea.

"The problem is that those are taxpayer facilities," he said. "It's the taxpayers who end up dealing with the lawsuits that are filed when something isn't cared for. It's the taxpayer who ends up paying when a door is not locked and there's vandalism."

Governing board members showed receptiveness to the team members' plea for a waiver, whether full or partial.

"I think there's something that can be worked out," Nancy Young-Wright, board president, said.

The club must apply for a waiver, and then its request will be addressed at a future board meeting.

Kent Barrabee, board vice-president, suggested that all nonprofit organizations that don't qualify for waivers should receive clarification about why they don't.

Board member Patty Clymer cautioned that the state's new requirements were sending a strong message that the state had no intention of reimbursing the school district for money they were not authorized by law to spend.

"I hope you understand we have to be very careful and cautious with how we spend our money," she said. "I hope you understand our caution. It's not that we don't support what you're doing, but we have to be very careful with our funds and how we use them for the entire district."

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