It may be fair to call legislation that the St. Louis County Council approved Tuesday the “School Picnic Protection Act.”
OK, that may be a bit of an oversimplification. But proponents of the move to exempt some school events from county permits say the measure is just common sense.
“They’re not big fundraisers. These aren’t big auctions and things,” said Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights. “They’re bake sales and car washes and the like. Basically it hadn’t been enforced for a long time. And all of a sudden it was starting to be enforced."
"Times changed and we just adapted the code to help them out," he added.
The legislation exempts any event “conducted by an elementary, middle or high school or college (or organization affiliated with them) that is conducted on their grounds” from having to get special events permits and sign permits.
The bill, sponsored by Council Chairwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, passed 6-0, with Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, abstaining.
Schools in unincorporated St. Louis County would be affected by the proposal, including the Lindbergh School District. Beth Johnston, the school district’s spokeswoman, said that the Lindbergh School Foundation ran into problems with permits during a recent fundraiser for student scholarships and teacher grants.
She said the nonprofit group was told it had to pay $79 for a special event permit and $32 for a sign permit. After looking into the matter further, Johnston said the permitting applied to any event to which the public was invited – including school picnics or car washes.
“A lot of these events, they raise maybe a couple hundred dollars. So when you’re talking about $100 in fees, it makes the event not even worth it,” Johnston said. “And that’s all money that goes straight into organizations that helps fund things that we don’t have the money for from the school district.”
There’s an exception when a for-profit business has an event on the school campus. And for some events, Johnston said, permits would be necessary, such as for the district’s Spirit Festival, which features carnival rides.
“And that makes sense. It’s a huge event,” Johnston said. “But [the bill] is exempting all of those little, everyday type of events.”
Dooley told reporters that the council “did the right thing” and that he’d sign the legislation.
“There were some issues that we were unaware of – and we’ve been made aware of them,” Dooley said. “We’ll make the necessary corrections. And we’ll move forward.”
Dolan said he’s not expecting the county to lose much revenue because of the bill.
“The county wasn’t in this to make money off of the school programs,” Dolan said. “Obviously, it’s not a big fee or structure that the county makes money off of. It’s just the right thing to do.”