The Great Neck Public Schools (GNPS) Board of Education announced that it would largely table the issue of raising fees for local nonprofit and volunteer organizations, like the Police Activity League (PAL), Great Neck Soccer Club and parishes of the Catholic Youth Organization’s (CYO) athletic leagues, seeking to use GNPS gym space.
The announcement, during a budget adoption hearing at North Middle School on Tuesday, April 16, comes after programs like St. Aloysius’s basketball program saw a 200 percent increase in fees “without any explanation as to why the increase went into effect,” according to sports officials.
“We have been paying a fee to use the facilities,” said John Sobolewski, an organizer of St. Aloysius’s CYO basketball program. “That fee was $8,000. We got our bill for the upcoming year, and that fee went up to $24,000.”
Sobolewski said that the large increase in fees would be way beyond what the parish is capable of paying.
“We would have to pass that on to all the kids,” Sobolewski said. “We don’t want to pass it on.”
While outlining next year’s district budget, John T. Powell, assistant superintendent of business and finance, cited how the use of athletic facilities by organizations like CYO and PAL causes the district to have to repair its gyms more frequently.
Next year, the district will spend $210,000 to sand, paint and polyurethane the gym floors of North High School, North Middle School, South High School and South Middle School.
“There is a cost to maintain these facilities,” Powell said. “The more wear and tear, the quicker we have to do these activities. This is necessary not only for our regular day school programs, but it also is necessary for the many organizations that take out permits to use our facilities.”
To protest the large hike in facility-use rates, St. Aloysius basketball team parents, players and coaches all attended the hearing, making up the majority of the attendants there.
Dressed in full uniform, the middle- and elementary-school basketball players held up signs to the Board of Education and GNPS administration that read, “Save CYO.”
Before opening up the hearing to public comment from the players, coaches and parents, however, Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz announced a temporary retreat from what initially caused St. Aloysius’s 200 percent increase in facility-use rates.
“The board has decided that we will table any increase, beyond the 10 percent increase, while we investigate some of the issues that were raised, and we’ll get back to everybody in the fall,” Berkowitz said.
Though they agreed the announcement was an improvement, many parents and coaches were not satisfied.
“We are asking you to revoke, not modify and charge us 10 percent,” Sobolewski said. “We want you to revoke, rescind, annul and reverse your decision that went down in February 2019 regarding the increase in fees.”
Sobolewski also referenced how similar Long Island towns, like Syosset, do not charge organizations like CYO any fees to use school athletic facilities during the week.
Berkowitz, however, did not think it was feasible for the district to let organizations use the facilities for free.
“I believe that after the board has time to reflect, there will not be an increase from $8,800 to $24,000,” Berkowitz said. “However, every group that uses our facilities understands that there’s a cost involved to us. The cost being the repairs in the buildings, security, custodians. I don’t want anybody to think that we’re going to go back to days where there’s no fee.”
Berkowitz also made it clear that the handling of the situation, on the district’s end, was not without fault, and that the board values programs like PAL and CYO.
“This may not have been handled in a way that it gave everybody time to prepare, time to think about it,” noted Berkowitz. “Before anything else is done, you will get ample time and ample notice, but please understand we respect these programs, we understand how much you care for these programs and in no way did we mean to denigrate any of them or the value of them or what it provides to the children.”