Winnipeg School Division says it's getting an unfair reputation for allegedly gouging community groups for gym rentals if they can't show that 90 per cent of their group lives within the division.
There is no truth to the belief resident groups pay a $50 flat fee for gym space for an entire school year, and groups with 89 per cent or fewer participants who live within the division pay $50 an hour plus taxes, senior officials insist.
The residency rule decides only who gets first crack at available space, says WSD.
"The residency requirement is strictly for the allocation of space," said secretary-treasurer Rene Appelmans.
"The community-use users (from within the division) are looked at first," said school board chairwoman Rita Hildahl.
Appelmans said everyone pays the flat fee of $50, which he said is sufficient to cover the division's costs over the course of a year.
However, if the custodian would not be in the school when someone wants to rent it, and has to be called in, the cost is $50 an hour.
"The board wants to facilitate use of the facilities," Hildahl said. "The local community residents should have access to the facilities first."
But the umbrella organizations for youth volleyball and youth basketball -- whose teams are formed city-wide rather than from specific geographical areas -- insist their members are reporting being charged two differential fees based on residency, and are having trouble booking gyms for practices.
They want Education Minister Nancy Allan to make all the school divisions open up their gyms for everybody at affordable rates.
"It's my tax dollars, but I can't use the gym -- that's the goofy thing. For cripes sakes, it's sitting there vacant on a Friday night," said Mitch Davidson, technical director of Volleyball Manitoba.
"It's really jacking up the cost of youth basketball -- people just want the schools to open up and serve the public," said Darcy Coss, executive director of the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association. "If we suddenly started getting cheap gyms, our costs would go down."
Allan has given school divisions until Jan. 1 to comply with provincial legislation passed earlier in 2012 that requires divisions to make their gyms widely accessible to the community and at a price not a penny above cost recovery.
Davidson said some of Volleyball Manitoba's youth club teams pay the $50 an hour fee and roll it into hefty registration fees.
While he has no proof, he's heard that some teams fudge their rosters to get the cheaper rate, by listing all or most of the kids living within the division.
"I know our people can't get those cheap permits -- Louis Riel School Division is the same," Coss said. Riel has a 51 per cent residency rule for a cheaper rate. "I'd like to see all the school divisions have an open policy," Coss said.
Appelmans said WSD will not comment on any question of someone's honesty, but reiterated the higher fee applies only when someone wants a gym or other school space when custodians are normally not working, not based on where the community users live.
Both basketball and volleyball officials also say they've seen too many instances of principals or gym teachers deciding if facilities are available, if they coach or if their kids are on a team.
As well, "A lot of school divisions won't lease out their high schools," said Davidson.