Our Views: Can city, school calm waters over facility use fees in Janesville?

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The city of Janesville has caused waves by proposing to cut the evening part of its morning and evening lap swim program at Marshall Middle School. Wading into this debate brings a few thoughts to mind.

First, the 2012 agreement between the city and school district makes sense overall. Yes, it might seem odd that they charge each other for facility use. The deal does, however, make program costs transparent. Besides, while most taxpayers might argue that this is Janesville and it's all the same money, that's not quite accurate. If the city uses school facilities more than schools use city ones, school district residents who live outside the city would rightly wonder why their school taxes subsidize city programs. Besides that, some city residents live in the Milton School District.

Some swimmers point out that they pay city and school taxes, so why should they pay again through fees to swim? The district and city agreed to a pool use fee of $50 per hour. With about 75 swimmers during the 2012-13 school year, the district charged the city $25,562. That's about $334 per swimmer. Softball players pay league fees, skaters pay at the ice arena, and golfers pay green fees at city-owned Riverside and Blackhawk courses. Those reduce taxpayer outlays. Without a fee to cover swimming costs, those who don't swim would wonder why their taxes should pick up some costs.

Second, lap swimming might not be an issue had Craig High School's golf team not switched from Riverside to the private Glen Erin. That tipped the balance in the city-school agreement so the city wound up owing the district money. The district should explain that switch so residents understand the logic.

Third, lap swimmers reason that school pools are beautiful and well-maintained, have temperatures right for lap swimming and seem empty too often. Swimmer Jan Compton points out that pool exercise is one of few things some older people with health problems can do. A community, she reasons, should be able to work out a deal to save evening lap swim, particularly when some swimmers now wait for lanes.

That reasoning ties into what school officials suggested when they urged voters to approve a $70 million referendum in 2007 to, in part, build more gym space and recreational facilities at the high schools. Officials said the public might get more access to the facilities. The district opens the gyms to public use from 6 to 7 a.m. three weekdays, but the loss of lap swimming—though at a different building—seems contradictory.

In a Nov. 1 blog, school Superintendent Karen Schulte says the city has approached the district about re-examining and possibly revising the facilities exchange contract. The district, she wrote, would welcome the discussion because it might benefit all parties.

Schulte noted that the district is a partner committed to improving the community. “Providing public access to our facilities, when appropriate, is an example of how we operate according to the district's mission—'To serve our community by educating every child.'”

The city had a public hearing on its budget Monday and plans another Monday, Nov. 25. It would be nice if talks between the city and school district could occur in time to save the city's entire lap swim program.

Find a way to do what's right. Think creatively. It's a shame to have five nice district pools sit unused so often before and after school.

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