Public Comment

Commentary: School Board Raises Field Use Fees 300%

By Doug Fielding
Tuesday September 04, 2007

On Wednesday, Aug. 22, the Berkeley School Board voted to charge youth groups “only” $35 per hour to use the new field at East Campus. This is “only” 300 percent higher than what these groups currently pay to use other grass fields in Berkeley. To put this in perspective, if BHS baseball and softball teams were required to pay this same amount for the City of Berkeley fields that they use it would cost about $300-$400 per player per season, just for field costs. This would be on top of the expenses for uniforms, equipment, umpires, coaches, etc. 

For board members regularly dealing with taxpayer dollars in the millions this $35 probably seems like an inconsequential number. However, these youth groups are mostly all-volunteer non-profit organizations whose only source of income is from the pockets of the parents who want their children involved in these after-school recreation programs. If BHS was forced to require parents of children who wanted to play baseball or softball to pay a participation fee of $300 or $400, the outcry from the parents would be loud enough for board members to understand that $300 or $400 is a number that actually means something to a lot of families, particularly low-income parents who would not be able to afford this cost. 

But who are these “youth groups”? They are BUSD elementary and middle school children who play in these community programs because the school district cannot afford to provide them. They are BHS high school students who want to play soccer in the fall because they don’t have an interest in the football and field hockey being offered by the school. They are the children of parents who want their kids exercising in supervised after-school programs because they are concerned about their child being healthy and engaged. They are the same children the School Board wrings its hands over when it talks about the obesity crisis and keeping children out of trouble. 

And given all the above the School Board doesn’t understand that raising prices 300 percent only makes these programs more expensive and less affordable to many families in the community—particularly low-income families? Do board members really believe this is good public policy and is in the interest of the children they are supposed to be serving? 

Ah, but we do have the issue of costs. After all, these fields cost money to maintain and it only seems fair that the people using them help pay for the upkeep. If this is the case, why is it that children playing on BHS teams pay nothing to use City of Berkeley fields but City of Berkeley children have to pay $35 per hour to use school fields? This rate is one of the most expensive hourly rates (if not THE most expensive hourly rate) in Northern California. And why is it that our organization, ASFU, can charge $12 an hour for children and $29 for adults and cover the maintenance costs for the playing fields it maintains but the school district needs to charge $35 and $90 for the same service? 

Thankfully, there is a simple solution to this problem. The School Board does not need to reinvent the wheel. The City of Berkeley, which oversees the maintenance and management of 23 playing fields, already has worked through the issue of pricing for the use of athletic fields. Prices are set through a cooperative process, which involves the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Parks Department, which is also concerned about maintenance costs, the various youth groups that use the fields, and the Berkeley City Council. The same taxpayers that accept this field pricing process are the same ones that pay the taxes, which support BUSD. The School Board can simply agree that it will charge the same rates for its grass and artificial fields that the community has agreed are appropriate for City of Berkeley fields. 


Doug Fielding is chairperson of the Association of Sports Field Users.