Getting school to act on rental charge for church

 

Shortly after I got back home from the FFRF convention in October in Portland, Ore., I started hearing advertisments on the radio where I live in Clarkston, Wash. The ads were for a church called Canyons Church and its services at the Clarkston High School auditorium.

This is our public high school of which I am a 1980 graduate. I thought this was curious — having church at the public high school. When, eventually, I saw a huge billboard advertising Canyons Church at Clarkston High School (with no disclaimer by the school), I decided I should look into this situation.

I went to “Legal” at ffrf.org/ and clicked on “State/Church FAQ” on the dropdown. I scrolled down and found “Churches Meeting at Public Schools.” FFRF said I could do a public records request and would have to pay for copies of the information I am requesting.

The FAQ said to (1) ask the school district for a copy of the rental contract; (2) ask for verification that rent has been paid up to date; (3) ask for a copy of the school district’s rental rate schedule to confirm that rent is reasonable. 

I emailed the superintendent with the public records request on Nov. 11. He replied on Nov. 13 that he would have the information to me by Nov. 20. On Nov. 19, I received a phone call from Wendy, the executive director for financial services, who said  I could pick up the information at the school district office.

I paid $1.05 for the copies (eight pages) and went home to study them. A cover letter was attached and in part said, “The third request asks for the current payment status of the Canyons Church account. Canyons Church is paid up through June 24, 2012. The district is at fault for not billing beyond this date (up until Friday, Nov. 16, 2012) due to a glitch in our system that we corrected on Friday. Invoices totaling $4,648 were sent to Canyons Church on Nov. 16.”

Hopefully, the church is up to date and will stay that way.

FFRF’s FAQ also advised to monitor signs and disclaimers. I did not find any signs at the school other than on the day of the service. There was, however, no disclaimer on the billboard in neighboring Lewiston, Idaho.

One last thing: The contracts state that all charges associated with use of facilities will be paid in full within 10 business days of receipt of invoice from the district. Yet the June 24 billing invoice date was 8/31/12, it was mailed on 9/11/12, due date was 9/30/12, and finally the invoice was paid on 10/15/12 (15 days late and apparently without penalty).

This whole process was quite exciting, I must admit. What shall I do next?

[Editor’s note: You’re doing fine, Jeff, but keep your powder dry. We try to gear FFRF’s FAQ to citizen activism as much as possible, depending on the situation.]  

Additional Info

  • byline: By Jeff Albright

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