Girl Guides of Canada has traditionally been an affordable organization for parents to have their children involved with, but there was a big inflationary increase this year, due to the hiked cost of renting gymnasiums and other school facilities in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
Brownies, Guides, Sparks and their parents and leaders filled the gallery Wednesday at the local school board meeting to protest the increased fees.
Darlene Kent, area commissioner for the Guides from Mission to Coquitlam, noted that gymnasium rental has gone from $5 to $33.75 an hour, and a multipurpose room from $1 to $13.75 an hour.
“This overwhelming increase is already having an impact on Guiding in these communities,” Kent told trustees.
She challenged the board’s assertion that the new rental rates are set on a cost-recovery basis.
“If a gymnasium is open anyway, the custodian is on the job, the heat is on and the lights are on, how is this cost recovery?”
She noted that fees for some groups have risen dramatically. The First Laity Girl Guides now charge $235 a year for Brownies, Guides, Pathfinders and Rangers groups, which is an increase of $90.
She has personally heard from two parents who have said they will not be able to afford the fees, and believes there are more who have not spoken up, but will look for more affordable activities for their children.
Kent also reminded the board that schools have traditionally been made available to the community, because they are public facilities.
“Our parents are taxpayers. We all pay taxes. We all pay school taxes. We are, in effect, the owners of these schools.”
And, she said, having community groups using schools in the evening reduces vandalism to the buildings – such as the recent theft of copper water pipes from underneath Webster’s Corners elementary.
“These are community resources. However, your rental fees will cause them to sit empty for much of the year,” Kent told the board.
Some guiding groups have already secured more affordable rental rates at churches and community centres.
School board chair Mike Murray responded that trustees are “in the unenviable position of having to look in every nook and cranny for savings,” due to a tight budget situation.
Kent acknowledged that, and said she is sending letters to both MLAs for the community.
Murray said the board will review the request.
“We very much value the work of the Girl Guides and other non-profit groups who provide children with opportunities,” he said after the meeting. “But we’re in a very challenging place in terms of our budgets.”
This year, the board had to find savings of $5.7 million in its $130 million budget for the 2013-2014 school year, which resulted in the loss of 35 positions, as well as other cuts.
He noted that the board has been subsidizing facility rentals with artificially low rates for a long time.
“Our No. 1 priority is the classroom. We would far rather be able to open our facilities to all groups at no cost, but we can’t.”
There are four Girl Guide groups in the community: Alouette has 284 girls; Pitt Meadows, 130; Laity, 96; and Port Hammond, 75. There are also about 141 adults members involved with the four groups.