In this March 2011 photo, Reg Couckuyt and Shannon Telfer of Hurl’s Hammers leap to block the ball during Brandon Co-Ed Volleyball League action against Digg This at Earl Oxford School. Groups like these that use school facilities will have to start carrying insurance. (FILE PHOTO)
For the first time, school user groups not affiliated with the Brandon School Division will have to pay both fees and carry liability insurance to use a facility within the division.
The policy is an answer to legislation introduced last year by Education Minister Nancy Allan that makes schools more accessible to the general public.
"As a school division, you certainly don’t want to be exposing yourself to a liability risk based on what is happening with a community user group in your school," BSD board of trustees chair Mark Sefton said.
Last December, Sefton and Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst signed a joint-use of community facilities agreement. The agreement provides greater access to gymnasiums and school classrooms for sporting activities and meetings.
How the shared facilities would be paid for broke off into two philosophies, Sefton said. Either the school division, through public funding from the taxpayer via the provincial government, could cover the costs — something that has been done at times in the past — or the groups utilizing the facilties could pay.
"We want to make the schools available, but it wouldn’t make sense for the cost to come out of the pool of dollars that is set aside for regular instruction of students," Sefton said.
At the time of the joint agreement, groups not affiliated with the school division paid $41 per hour for gym use. Sefton said those numbers will have to be re-evaluated on an annual basis to ensure costs are being covered.
The fees are designed to be revenue neutral, only recovering costs such as utilities and janitorial staff.
Meanwhile, the insurance will provide another layer of protection for the division.
While some incidents may still be covered under the division’s insurance policy, Sefton said it makes sense for groups to carry their own insurance in case an injury results from actions of members within the group.
"I don’t think it should be on the dime of the local taxpayer to cover the liability insurance. It should be covered by the group with the activity."
Groups will be expected to carry a minimum of $2 million of liability insurance per occurrence.
Premiums for the coverage are expect to range from $25-$150 a day or $75-$500 a season for programs, according to the Community Use of Schools handbook supplied by the Province of Manitoba.
One commercial insurance broker, who chose to remain anonymous, said the insurance is completely unnecessary.
"They’re making them buy insurance that they’ve never needed before," he said. "I make my money selling insurance and this is insane. The consequences of this are grave."
Keith Thomas, risk manager for the Manitoba School Boards Association, advised school boards across the province to implement the change.
"There are people that are coming in and using our facilities and they could end up paralyzed or having a debilitating injury for the rest of their life and for a small sum they can cover themselves with insurance and they won’t be a liability to the taxpayer," Thomas said. "It’s not for us, it’s for them."
The MSBA is a business in charge of keeping insurance costs down within the province.
Thomas said the company will offer insurance for groups that might not be able to buy it from a broker.
Thomas deals with between 40-50 insurance cases each year involving students and staff at the facilities, but said lawsuits from outside groups are uncommon.
"We have not had many that I can recall involving outsiders, but it can happen."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 4, 2013