The New Hanover County Board of Education’s policy committee proposed a revision to the policy that exempts film studios from fees regularly charged for use of school property during a June 3 meeting.
The discussion began with a May 4 email from board member Lisa Estep, questioning if crews filming parts of “Max Steel” at Hoggard High School were charged for use of school facilities.
The county currently charges film crews a staff fee to cover the cost of a custodian or school employee working beyond normal hours to provide access to school property. Although the county school system is not a state agency, it chose to follow the spirit of a 2000 law requiring state agencies to waive fees for film crews using its facilities.
Other organizations not related to students or parents are charged a fee.
Estep said she wanted to initiate a conversation to assure the board sees the policy as fair.
“I wanted to open a discussion. I’m uncomfortable with singling out one industry for preferential treatment because the state suggested that 14 years ago,” Estep said.
Board member Tammy Covil supported eliminating the film industry’s special status, saying it makes financial sense to charge a fee to cover the cost of wear and tear to the properties from outside use.
“Given the fact we have a bond referendum on the table, [and]the economy has not been good for quite some time, we have a responsibility and a duty to make sure that we are being financially responsible,” Covil said.
Film crews often donate sums of money to schools after using the facilities. Assistant superintendent of operations Bill Hance estimated past donations were equal to or slightly more than what the county would reap in facility use fees.
Board member Dr. Derrick Hickey said a newly adopted fee could come across as unfriendly to an industry important to the county’s economic base. Instead of charging the crews, he proposed the county present the amount of waived fees as a suggested contribution at the end of filming.
Estep said she liked Hickey’s suggestion more than tacking on a fee for the film industry. But returning to her original intent to treat all industries fairly, she acknowledged transitioning the entire fee structure to a bartering system would pose unnecessary problems on the operations side.
The committee agreed to propose removing language from the policy that specifies only a staff fee will be charged to the film industry. The full school board will discuss the policy revision during a July 1 meeting.