High school seeks compromise on ice time fees
The high school's appetite for ice time has increased dramatically now that there are both boys and girls varsity and junior varsity teams. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Concern about a possible $5,000 increase in ice time fees for 2006 prompted a meeting of the high school's land-use subcommittee last Thursday night with a representative of the Martha's Vineyard Arena (MVA) board.
At the same time the ice fee increases are being proposed, the arena and high school are due to renegotiate the terms for the lease of the parking lot the school owns between the ice arena and the skate park. Currently, the arena pays $1 a year.
With the 20-year lease about to expire, Margaret (Peg) Regan, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) principal, proposed a compromise, a low rate for the arena to lease the parking lot for another 20 years in exchange for ice time.
Jevon Rego attended the meeting for Brion McGroarty, MVA president, who was out of town. Mr. Rego, MVA treasurer, said the arena board approved a 12 percent increase in ice rates for all user groups for 2006. "We're a non-profit organization. We're strapped - we rely on $20,000 in donations to make our budget," Mr. Rego said. The ice arena's operating budget is $300,000 a year, he said, with the high school's contribution amounting to about 10 percent.
With four hockey teams, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) paid close to $30,000 for ice time in the 2004-05 school year, almost double the amount allocated in that year's budget. A big factor in the school's additional ice hours was an increase in time for girls' teams, Mr. Rego said.
Ms. Regan agreed. "The prevailing attitude had been that boys' hockey is real hockey and girls' hockey is a hobby," she said. "That's when the ice rink realized they had to charge us for the time, now that we have boys' and girls' varsity teams, plus two junior varsities." Junior varsity team members sometimes have to pay out of pocket in addition to what the school pays for ice time, Ms. Regan said.
The ice fees are offset somewhat by gate receipts, although the high school incurs an additional expense of paying someone to collect them, she said.
In the 2005-06 budget, the ice time line item was upped to $28,000. The 2006 proposed fee increase could push the high school's costs to about $35,000, Ms. Regan said. "Are we okay with adding a 12 percent increase into our budget, or should we look at the lease for the parking lot and negotiate for ice time?" she asked the land-use subcommittee members.
Mr. Rego said that the arena's rates, $170 per hour, are significantly lower than the state average. "If we have to pay an increased parking lot lease, we will have to raise ice rates further," he said. With declining numbers in the Youth Hockey program, he said the arena board would be reluctant to do so.
Mr. Rego also pointed out that the parking lot is not used much, other than during high school hockey games.
"When you look at the YMCA coming in, they get the land and we get swim time. I remember the same for the ice rink," said David Rossi, a subcommittee member who also chairs the All-Island School Committee. "I don't have a problem with them having that income, but I don't think it should come out of the high school budget." Being regional, the high school is tapped for everything, Mr. Rossi said.
"The towns of Martha's Vineyard don't have an unlimited supply of money, as well," said Priscilla Sylvia, a subcommittee member from Oak Bluffs.
The arena was established in 1974, with the first ice put down in 1980 as an outdoor skating facility. The land was deeded as a gift from the high school to the MVA, a non-profit organization. Up until 1999, Mrs. Regan said, high school hockey players skated there for free.
"In 1999, I was told the ice arena needed money from the high school or they would go under," she recalled, The agreement was that the school would pay 75 percent of the prevailing rates. That year, the school tapped into a hockey trust fund to pay the ice fees. The trust fund has not been used since, and Ms. Regan said she will check into the possibility of accessing it.
As James Weiss, Martha's Vineyard Public Schools superintendent, summarized, "There are two issues, the lease for the parking lot and whether it can be parlayed into ice time, and cost of ice time in general. We're going into tough budget times."
Mr. Rego said that high school students now skate during the arena's "prime time," in the afternoons after school. "They skate as much as they want, all the time," Ms. Regan added. "We could have the kids skate less."
Roxanne Ackerman, a subcommittee member from Chilmark, suggested making a cost comparison between hockey and other sports.
"When you look at the money, you look at the equity," said Mr. Rossi. "Maybe the booster clubs have to step up a little more. Are we looking at a group of 20 kids that we're giving more resources to?"
The committee concluded the meeting with plans to research other schools' hockey teams, consider the impact of fee increases on the high school budget, meet with the hockey booster club, inquire about the hockey trust fund, and discuss possible compromises with the ice arena's board.