EDITORIAL: ACPS commits error in snubbing Little League

Photo: File Photo

Alexandria residents pay very high property taxes — $1.038 per $100 of value — for the privilege of living in the Port City. Those taxes fund, among other things, our public schools, sports fields and city employees.

In exchange for these tax outlays, local children should be able to play any major sport — including soccer, football, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey and, yes, baseball — at a reasonable cost. This participation should include access to city fields, gyms and other practice facilities.

Little League parents are justifiably outraged that Alexandria City Public Schools more than quintupled the fee from last year of using a school gym for a winter baseball clinic — making the event cost-prohibitive. So it was canceled, leaving Alexandria Little Leaguers out in the cold this winter.

To mix sports metaphors, city officials made multiple unforced errors on this issue.

First, the school board erred in June when it raised the fee for nonprofits to a whopping $385 per hour. Then, the board quoted the Alexandria Little League with a still exorbitant $285 hourly rate — a difference that seems arbitrary.

By comparison, local Little League officials say Fairfax County quoted them a price of $106 per hour for a gym. And Alexandria Country Day School, a private school in the city, charges outside groups just $75 per hour to rent its gym.

School officials and board members appear to have forgotten that our public school facilities are community property. Taxes paid by city residents fund these facilities. Residents — whether they play Little League, are Boy Scouts or belong to a neighborhood knitting club — should be able to access school buildings without being gouged.

Even more egregious is the fact that it was a city-affiliated sports group, Alexandria Little League, which was effectively turned away from using a city sports facility: a school gym. This simply shouldn’t happen.

Piling insult onto price gouging, school officials waited three weeks to respond to the Alexandria Little League’s request for clarification on the price hike. Was this silence arrogance — something the school district often is accused of — incompetence or something else?

Does the school system waive this fee for some groups, but not for others? Does someone at the district dislike baseball?

The Alexandria Times would like to provide answers to these questions for our readers, but unfortunately, school officials did not respond to repeated requests for clarification prior to our print deadline.

Like the Alexandria Little League, we are in the cold on this one.

Several things seem clear, however:

• An hourly rate of $385 is too much to charge any Alexandria group to use a school gym or meeting room.
• A city-affiliated sports group should be able to use a public school gym at custodial cost. The few thousand dollars raised gouging such groups is meaningless in the context of a roughly $240 million budget for the school system.
• Clear guidelines should be implemented for when and how fees are waived, so that the process is not arbitrary or under the subjective control of an individual.
• School officials need to respond to the public on requests for information in a timely manner — within days and not weeks.

Let’s make sure that next year, in the bleak mid-winter, baseballs are flying inside our city gyms.

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