The Cheatham County Board of Education voted unanimously to waive facility usage fees for any groups that involve students for the rest of the academic year.

The facility policy amendment proposed by board member Jennifer Hamblin at the Sept. 5 board meeting says that any group or event that is not school-sponsored but involves or impacts students or children in Cheatham County are exempt from paying a facility usage fee until at least next June.

The amended policy drops the required payment to the district for youth sports leagues, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Christmas Anonymous event and the Cheatham County Kids Autism Awareness event, among others. If those groups decide to make a voluntary payment to help with utility costs during their event, the district would accept it, school board spokesman Tim Adkins said.

Groups that are not student-related will continue to pay a facility usage fee.

Cheatham County Youth Basketball Association officials had said at an August school board workshop that it would ask each of its six schools to raise $3,000 so the league could donate $18,000 to the school district to help pay for utility costs. The league will also shorten its season and each team will play two games on Saturdays to help lower costs.

Cheatham County Mayor Kerry McCarver told the board at the September meeting that the county will make a one-time payment of $30,000 to the school district to help cover utility costs. That payment will be taken from the county’s Parks and Recreation Department budget.

Last July the board voted to step up the enforcement of its policy of charging all groups to use schools for extracurricular activities. That decision came after a report to the board that the district’s utilities bill was nearly $200,000 above the payments it did collect.

Parents and officials with those groups strongly criticized the decision, saying it would hit the groups or event with a higher cost that they could not afford.

Board chairman John Louallen said that the district has the technology to track electrical usage in all of its facilities, which will help to determine the schools budget for that.

About 20 people — many of them affiliated with the basketball league — attended the Aug. 29 workshop to discuss the revised policy with the board members. Many of the board members said they are struggling with paying the bills while not reducing opportunities for kids in the county.

“I don’t want to be thought of as not a good community partner,” Director of Schools Dr. Cathy Beck said at the workshop. “We are really between a rock and a hard place here. I am torn between being fiscally responsible and benefitting our kids.”

Louallen said the board will review how to apply and enforce its facilities assessment fees next spring as part of its 2020-21 budget planning.

The board has scheduled a workshop for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss plans for a proposed bus barn. At its August workshop, the board received an update on a plan for the bus barn with an approximately $4 million pricetag.

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