FAIRFIELD — A longtime, but apparently forgotten, clause in a joint-use statement is tugging on the tight purse strings of a small nonprofit geared toward helping students.
Since 1970, Assist-A-Grad Foundation has put together scholarship sponsors with students in the Fairfield-Suisun School District and Vanden High School, which is in the Travis School District. It has presented close to $3 million in scholarships for local students while operating on a small budget, with most of the dozen or so members kicking in donated expertise to get things done.
The group, which has worked in partnership with the Fairfield-Suisun School District in using the Willow Room at the city-owned Community Center to have the annual May awards ceremony – which always take place on a Sunday – has never been charged a fee, said Charlotte Toon, an Assist-A-Grad board member and the past secretary for 19 years.
But after the May 2013 ceremony, the city presented the school district with a surprise $980 bill, Toon said. The school district paid the bill, but Toon said the district notified Assist-A-Grad that it could not afford to pay in the future.
“We were surprised,” said Assist-A-Grad president Rita Santos, of the fee from the city. “We were a little blindsided. The whole thing is, here we are, 44 years in existence . . . .”
Numerous phone calls to the school district to speak to facilities director Kim Van Gundy or Superintendent Kris Corey were not returned. Van Gundy’s secretary, Betty Voyce, said the problem could be with the day of the week.
“We don’t normally have things on the weekend, so that could be where the confusion is,” she said.
The joint-use agreement between Fairfield and the Fairfield-Suisun School District allows for cross use of facilities between the city and the school district. The agreement spells out terms and rates for various items, including rentals, staffing and lighting. The most recent five-year joint use agreement was approved by the school district governing board in June.
The agreement states that during the week the district will not be charged but “if they do (an event) over the weekend, they do get charged,” said Erin Beavers, the city’s director of community development.
Beavers said the likely reason for the 2013 charge is that “someone actually looked at the agreement.” He could not say why they were not charged for previous years.
“They were supposed to be,” he said.
Beavers said the earliest records date to around 2009 and that the school district was not charged for 2009, 2011 or 2012. It was charged $110 in 2010 for staffing and $980 – $540 for rental and $440 for staffing – in 2013, he said.
Beavers said the school district is “well aware” of the rental charges and that all the requests come in through Van Gundy or Voyce.
“It all comes down to that if the school (district) doesn’t want to pay, they should be scheduling for a non-weekend,” Beavers said.
Santos said the event has always taken place on a Sunday and the organization does that so it doesn’t interfere with the school schedule. In order to keep it running as it has for decades, Toon and Santos said they’re looking to raise money in ways they haven’t had to in the past, such as fundraising or seeking out donations from the public.
They currently charge a $45 operational fee to each scholarship sponsor to help defray costs, ranging from postage to printing.
“A long time ago, that used to cover the expenses,” Toon said. Raising that operational fee to those who already give the scholarship money is not something they want to do, Santos said.
“I really feel strongly about that,” she said.
To donate, send checks to Assist-A-Grad Foundation, c/o Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce, 1111 Webster St., Fairfield, CA 94533. Checks should be made out to Assist-A-Grad Operational Funds.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.