Economic times are tough. While the federal government can print all the money the politicians want to buy votes through bloated "stimulus" packages, state and local governments don't have such a luxury.
As a result, the state of Georgia is grappling with a budget shortfall that has ballooned to $2.6 billion. That deficit has sent ripples through the local level as governments are battling their own tight budgets.
For example, Columbia County's government has imposed a hiring freeze and is reorganizing departments as vacancies occur. Meanwhile, the school system is contemplating cuts that would eliminate three dozen teaching positions and 10 other staffers.
Yet in a time when every penny counts, why is the school system continuing to inexplicably turn up its nose at a small but reliable source of revenue?
We're talking about school rentals to churches. Any other group that fits the school system's criteria can lease school property when school isn't in session.
As a result, startup churches are able to rent facilities with ample room indoors and plenty of parking outside for their Sunday-morning or weekday-evening services. The school and the school system make money from leasing an otherwise empty building. And because the system's rules require a school employee be on site, that worker earns a little extra cash. It's an obvious win-win.
Why, then, does the school system persist in treating these renters as if they are a nuisance or inconvenience? Just in recent weeks, The Church at Greenbrier and Covenant United Methodist Church have been shown the equivalent of an unwelcome mat from the schools they rented because board policy limits leasing agreements to two years. After that, the renter has to beg the school board for an extension.
What's the problem? The issue can't be wear and tear on the schools; that's easily addressed by the amount of rent charged. If it isn't enough, raise it. And it can't be disruption of school activities, because the churches are using schools when the school system isn't.
If anything, the system should aggressively pursue after-hours use of school facilities. At minimum, the policy of kicking renters out after two years ought to be dropped. It made no sense in good economic times, and makes even less sense now when every penny counts.
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