In an age of downloading and tax cuts, Toronto's Girl Guides and Boy Scouts suddenly must ``be prepared'' to pay for the school rooms they meet in each week.
For the first time in this city's history, nearly 10,000 Cubs, Scouts, Guides and Brownies will have to worry about rent as well as reef knots this fall, because schools say they no longer can afford to provide meeting space for free.
It's a financial pressure some warn could spell the end of some Scout groups and, at the very least, force Guides to sell more than 40 per cent more cookies.
The good news for Guides and Scouts is that they are being asked to pay only half what the Toronto District School Board wants to charge the City of Toronto for its community youth groups next year - because the city has the power to raise taxes to pay its bills, while Scouts and Guides do not.
In an emotional meeting this week, the school board voted to charge Scouts and Guides user fees - but at a rate of only about $5.70 an hour, rather than the $11.40 it wants to charge the city.
The board also agreed to phase in the fees gradually over three years.
But if the city insists, during its own fee negotiations with the board this summer, on paying the same low rate as Guides and Scouts, then the board will have no choice but to charge them all the higher fee, said Gary Parkinson, executive officer of facility services.
"It's very regrettable, but the provincial government makes no provision in its funding formula for the use of schools after 4 o'clock," said Parkinson.
So either the city has to pay, or the province has to pay, or the Guides and Scouts will have to do a lot of fundraising.
To Scouts Canada's Adam Whyte, director of field services in Toronto, the fees could mean the beginning of the end of some Scout groups.
"We're very concerned that some groups may have to close because these fees will be one more pressure on a volunteer sector that is already under attack,'' Whyte said.
For the 4,800 Guides, Brownies and Sparks who meet in Toronto schools, it will mean roughly $120,000 year in room fees alone, and for the 5,100 members of Scouts Canada, it means roughly $100,000 - if they keep the lower rate.
For the Guides, that would require selling a whopping 178,350 more boxes of cookies each year, above and beyond the 436,200 boxes Toronto Guides sell already, says co-commissioner Louise Fast of Girl Guides of Canada's Toronto area.
The new fees are a ripple effect of Ontario's new school funding formula, which barred local boards from raising taxes and instead made them dependent on government grants, which do not cover after-school community use.
As a result, boards across Ontario have started to charge fees to pay for after-schoolcaretakers, heating, and general wear-and-tear on facilities.
The Toronto board also urged Guides and Scouts to lobby Queen's Park to pick up the tab for this sort of community use of schools.
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