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Field Use Fee Changes Strain Little League Funds

Historically, the City of Santa Clara was responsible for scheduling use of the City’s sports fields, and the maintenance of the fields would be left to volunteers with the sports leagues. According to Michal Healy, Director of Facility Development and Planning for the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD), about two years ago conversations began between the school district and the community about changes to management of the fields.

As of August, such changes have now been established, putting the school district in charge of field use scheduling via an online platform called Facilitron. SCUSD is responsible for all maintenance of the sports fields and facilities, with fields mowed twice per week and bathrooms cleaned three times per week, among other duties.

In terms of fees charged for use of the fields, the school district charges a different rate for different types of users, with adult sports leagues paying more than youth ones, and with youth sports leagues that have 80 percent of more participants who attend SCUSD schools billed at the cheapest rates. Due to ongoing conversations between the school district and Briarwood and Westside Little Leagues regarding the potential burdensome impact of these fees on the leagues, the fees were dropped from $15 per hour per field to $5 for youth sports organizations with 80 percent or more SCUSD students.

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“It’s always tough to change but for us as a District this is a positive change,” said Healy. “With the new system, the grounds department is able to block out times for maintenance and we also know who’s using the fields and when, which would be important if there’s an emergency. It’s made a difference to sit down with user groups to talk about the fees. Things are always going to change but we’re working to make it a fair process.”

Mario Samora, President of Briarwood Little League, said that there’s been a major issue of lack of transparency between the school district and youth leagues, and that although the reduced rate is an improvement, he said his organization wasn’t given enough advance warning of the fee imposition and that it will cripple his league financially.

“Briarwood has about 270 kids and spends between $25,000 and $30,000 per season,” explained Samora. “The school district is neglecting to realize all that’s been put into the fields by the leagues over the years by volunteers, so this is hard to swallow.

“All youth sports leagues need a solution that won’t hurt the kids,” he continued. “I may have to raise fees for youth and cut costs. A lot of our kids don’t come from backgrounds with a lot of resources. Twenty percent of our athletes are on scholarships. I don’t want to have to turn kids away because we can’t get them on the field.”

Samora, who’s advocating for a $1 per hour per field charge instead, said that volunteers with Briarwood have been maintaining the fields they use for decades, beginning in 1988 when they came to an agreement with the City that volunteers would do maintenance in lieu of fees. He said that because almost all of the Santa Clara’s fields are now managed by the school district, there aren’t any alternatives, and that the league will have to pay for practice days as well as game days.

“I believe that the intention is for the $5 fee to increase over time and so it’s hard to plan for an uncertain future,” said Samora. “We need time to prepare for this. Every dollar we didn’t allocate for is effective now for this season. People are afraid of what the future may hold.”

More meetings are being scheduled this month with the school district and youth sports leagues in an attempt to reach a compromise. Healy said that SCUSD has bolstered its commitment to maintenance with plans to make improvements such as replacing dugout roofs, an expense that the leagues won’t have to pay for.

A representative for Westside Little League declined to comment due to ongoing discussions with SCUSD.

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