Permit fee shocks North Side sports teams

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When the Steelers of the Northside Youth Athletic Association began preparing for their afternoon midget football season, they didn’t prepare for the price the Pittsburgh Public Schools wanted for the team to use the Oliver High School field.

It was $15,000, more than 20 times the fee they paid last year and 60 times the fee they had paid before that.

School Director Mark Brentley said the charge was an outrage.

“I tried to schedule a meeting on this policy change, but my suggestion was refused,” he said. “I understand, and so do these teams, that they have to pay something, but this is ridiculous.”

On its Facebook page, the Steelers note that since the New Pittsburgh Courier first inquired about the fee, on July 30 they met with District CFO Pete Camarda, who offered to lower the fee, but it is still too high.

“So we are back in from our fight with the board…they reduced the price to $3,113 but that’s a big jump from the $700 that they said someone wrongly charged us last year and the $250 in prior years,” wrote Coach Gene Goodwine. “We are not done fighting but we are making progress!!!”

It isn’t just the Steelers who are fighting this huge inflation in fees. Renee Wright, program director for the nonprofit Children 2 Champions and president of its North Shore Stallions midget football league, said her fee increased 20 times, from $400 last year to $8,000 this year.

“When I got that letter in the mail I turned it upside down to see if I was reading it right,” she said. “When I called the district, they said the guy who had been doing the permits, who’s retired, was doing it wrong—but somebody signed off on those for seven years.”

The district policy states that applications to use school facilities say that “regularly organized nonprofit community groups” get two free uses of facilities per school and only pay rental charges after that.  Permit holders are to pay for personnel needed to run equipment, lifeguards when using pools, any vandalism or damage, and for security.

Wright said her organization, a nonprofit, is run by volunteers and charges a modest fee to the kids for equipment has no objection to paying but cannot pay what the district is asking. She also attended the July 20 meeting with Camarda at which, he offered to reduce the fee.

“After about an hour he said they’d lower the fee to $2,919 for our five games, about $3,500 more than we’ve been paying,” she said. “We’re trying to keep these kids busy and active and this is the thanks we get? Then they wait to tell us to pay this money two weeks from our home opener. It’s a slap in the face.”

Wright said the team practices for free at  Fowler Field, a city park on Charles Street, and she has looked at playing her games at either Manchester Field or Kennard File in the Hill, but they are not the best choice.

“Neither is set up for football, they are just open fields,” she said. “I could use the field at North Park for $90 a day, but then I’d have to hire buses to get the kids out there. It’s a real headache.”

Camarda said he offered a solution whereby the teams would help with cleanup and the district would only require one custodian. The district also waived having a school police officer on site, leaving the teams to hire off-duty police for security as they have in the past.

“Frankly the policy was in place but it was not being adhered to. We’ve straightened this out with all the other groups renting facilities,” he said. “I respect these groups and I love what they are doing, but I don’t have a choice other than to administer the policy correctly. This district’s finances are such that it should not be picking up additional costs.”

Camarda said neither group would have to pay the fees until after the end of the permit.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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