Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will begin to implement a plan early next year to charge youth groups a fee for the use of the district’s playing fields and recreation facilities.

According to Tim Bower, director of Beyond the Bell, the branch of the school district charged with overseeing all district after-school programs, the policy has always been in place to assess fees to outside organizations that participate in activities on school district grounds.

“The state Education Code requires school districts, through the Civic Center Permit Act, to make their facilities available to the public,” Bower said. “[Instituting the fee policy] is merely a recapture of these fees.”

The district has established a three-tiered classification system for the various groups that participate in nonschool-related activities on school grounds. Some organizations will remain exempt from paying fees, while others will have to pay what district officials say are modest assessments.

Youth and nonprofit organizations that have youngsters from the school district as participants that use the gymnasium or playing fields at district schools will be required to pay a one-time $77.10 fee for a permit to use the facilities and a $5 fee for custodial supplies.

“The groups must be organized for the promotion of youth activities,” said Bower.

The second tier of organizations will consist of groups that do not have students from the school district. These organizations will be assessed $25.50 an hour, along with the permit and custodial charges.

District officials contend that they are not alone in assessing fees when their facilities are used. The City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and other school districts charge for outside organizations to use their facilities, Bower noted.

Advisory councils, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and PTA groups that use school classrooms or libraries for meetings are exempt.

Brent Whittlesey, area director for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), says he has discussed the impact that the new charges for practicing and playing on school district fields will have on the organization.

“This will certainly make it more difficult to offer soccer programs at a reasonable rate,” said the area director.

Children who play baseball with the North Venice Little League might be forced to cut down on practice time, said Kim Eyler, a board member of the baseball league.

“Having to pay these fees will be very costly for us,” said Eyler, the league’s treasurer.

Bower said that the district has provided after-school activities for youngsters since 1915, so the district has a commitment to after-school and recreational programs.

“We offer a variety of free after-school and weekend activities,” said Bower. “And we will continue to do so.”

School district officials say the fees will pay for the district employees who open the facilities on weekends, when a majority of youth and nonschool-related events occur.

Bower said that the request to charge organizations fees came from the office of school district superintendent David Brewer and did not go before the school board for approval. When asked why, he replied, “We are implementing what the board permits us to do.”

Eyler said that last year the district told the North Venice Little League that it might charge the organization for the use of its athletic fields, but it ultimately did not.

“We have been granted permits for next February, so now we’re just waiting to see what happens next,” she said.

Both Whittlesey and Eyler agree that the requirement to pay the district fees probably translates into an extra financial burden for their organizations.

“One [AYSO] region will have to pay an additional $15,000 in order to be able to participate in youth soccer,” Whittlesey lamented.

Children who reside in lower-income areas are the ones who stand to be most harmed, says Whittlesey.

“In Central Los Angeles, where we have at least 600 kids registered, they may have to raise registration fees” to offset the new costs, he said. “These kids are at risk of being priced out of a program [due to the district’s new policy].”

Sharon Commins, a Mar Vista resident who is active in youth soccer, agreed.

“I think it’s reasonable to charge a prorated fee for organizations that wish to use LAUSD facilities,” she said. “But I’m not sure what kind of message it sends to kids and their families if these fees are not affordable for a lot of these kids.”

The North Venice Little League uses the district’s Mark Twain Elementary School for some of its practices. The number of youngsters who use these fields is significant, and league officials will have to factor this new dynamic in with the necessity of using the ball fields.

“We have 400 to 500 kids that play on six fields, five days a week,” Eyler explained. The new costs associated with using district facilities “could be very significant for us,” Eyler added. “We knew that there was a possibility [of LAUSD charging fees next year], and it will have a big impact on us.”

Whittlesey finds it ironic that the youths who stand to feel the strain the most are the ones that are least likely to be able to afford the new fees.

“Particularly in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Culver City, kids pay little or nothing to use athletic facilities,” he pointed out. “It’s disappointing that the kids who live in Los Angeles will have to pay higher fees to use the school district’s athletic facilities.”