The Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) board of trustees discussed the costs of maintaining school facilities, including the artificial turf field, at its June 10 meeting. The board is currently considering increasing the facilities fees for the entire district, as existing use fees are the lowest in the North County area, it was stated.
It was also noted that only CIF-related sports are permitted to use stadiums with artificial turf on game days in other school districts. According to the FUHSD board meeting agenda, physical education or team practices are not permitted on the field; outside organizations are only allowed to rent the fields on a limited basis with a much larger rental fee.
The recommended use for the stadium field as it was presented to the board was that only CIF-related programs would use the field. On the agenda, it stated that physical education programs should be allowed to use the stadium and field. The majority of time, however, PE programs use the rubberized track, not the artificial turf.
According to assistant superintendent Will Hatcher, there was a comparison of fees done with surrounding school districts regarding the use of their facilities, and it was apparent that their costs were set to insure that the fields were not used except on game days.
“We have a $25 an hour stadium fee that is typically not paid,” he said. “Users will not pay because they have no money, or they use the field like a park, and enter while someone else is using the field. One thing we know for certain is that there is a significant overuse of the artificial turf to the point where the use actually comes into play of creating a dangerous facility.”
If the district allows overuse of the turf to wear it completely out without the replacement of the carpet, the field would be condemned, said Hatcher.
“Not even students would be able to use the field. We would have to put a chain link around the field and lock it up,” he said. “While that is the most extreme situation we can encounter, it’s going to happen if we are not wise and prudent with the facility.”
According to a proposed schedule, on June 10, the stadium field without lights fee would increase from $15 an hour to $90 an hour. The stadium with lights would increase from $25 an hour to $210 an hour.
In addition, stadium turf field use fees will be deposited into a special reserve account to be used only for field maintenance, repair and replacement. However, the stadium fees are not set to provide for full cost recovery – only offset a small portion of the cost to operate and maintain the field.
Hatcher stated that a prepayment plan is being put into place so that the district will not have to absorb the unpaid bills from businesses that did not pay their bills to the district.
“We’d rather get paid rather than trust on just relying on honesty, expecting to be paid when we send bills,” he said. “We had no restrictions in place, and now we are facing a lot of issues that are costly.”
FUHSD-sponsored programs will not be charged, but non-CIF programs, such as the boys’ and girls’ rugby teams, would be significantly impacted by the fee increase. Supporters of the groups were at the meeting to voice their concerns.
Mike Majewski, who helped found the rugby program, began the appeal to the board.
“Since starting seven years ago, we’ve come a long way to get [the rugby program] to this point,” he said. “We have always used CIF guidelines to legitimize our sport and as a way to measure success. Our kids know that the community embraces them, and the rugby teams have set standards that other teams are trying to beat. We have two championships nationally, and the girls are the top public school team in the country. We work hard as coaches and have so much pride. The new fee increase will bankrupt us.”
Parents, assistant coaches, and players clapped and jangled their winning medals together to show support as various members of the community approached the podium to explain how the rugby program enforced dedication, preparation, and pride into the teams.
“Changing how we use the facilities would have a serious detrimental impact on a quarter million in scholarships,” said one assistant coach.
Girls’ rugby coach Marin Pinnell stated that her team was especially impacted because her team also included middle school aged children.
“I’m a teacher here [at Fallbrook High] and my contract has been reduced because of declining enrollment,” she said. “A lot of my players are in junior high, and want to go to Fallbrook High instead of Great Oak because of my program. That means something. They want to be a Warrior.”
After hearing the parents and coaches plea their case, Koehler asked Hatcher if there could be another category for fees, depending on the severity of use by the sport.
Hatcher explained that there had been a three-tiered structure before, but the middle tier had been eliminated so that club activities could take advantage of the lower rate.
“In hindsight, that was not smart, but we were not getting paid at the higher rate, so we wanted to try to get paid at the lower rate,” he said.
Board member Cliff Sumrall stated that sport clubs, like rugby, might be the way to get student attendant numbers to increase in the district again.
“These students can’t go to Bonsall to play, and we have been wondering how to increase enrollment,” he said. “If we can’t sell our product, maybe this is the beginning of us doing something about it. These groups are out of sync with us right now, but where do you go to find a national champion group who doesn’t have a place to play? We can take the national champion team and put them on the field and have them recruit students, taking care of our issues.”
Superintendent Dale Mitchell felt that there was more to the turf than just usage problems.
“While we share in the joy of the successes of the rugby program, fundamentally, our issue about the longevity of the turf has not been answered,” said Mitchell. “The board has requested initial information, and we hope to acquire that, but we also believe that Hatcher and I have a responsibility to bring before the board and community the fact that the stadium turf has a limited lifespan. If we do not have a plan for how that turf is going to be replaced, it is going to be condemned.”
Mitchell stated that the [old] press box was condemned at the football field.
“While we had a well-intentioned community, and the press box was a nice and good idea, it became very obvious through the past few years that turning a good idea into action is very difficult,” he said.
Koehler stated that she realized that the field is not a park, but hoped that an in-between could be found for programs like the rugby teams.
“I understand we aren’t running a public park here, so we want to charge the proper fees,” she said. “But rugby is important, and I want to have consideration, more time and thought to find a solution that we haven’t come up with yet, and see what we can do to accommodate them. They are impacting a lot of kids’ lives.”
However, not all board members felt the same.
“Sports are important, but we are here to educate and provide a safe environment for the students,” said Mike Schulte, trustee. “Right now, we don’t have a plan in place. We have to think of one. We don’t have to go out recruiting students; we have to provide an education for the ones we have. We should be concerned about the kids in our community.”
The fee schedule will be placed on the June 24 board of trustees meeting for final approval.