School board tables policy eliminating film industry privilege

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After discussing a proposed change to the facility use policy that would charge film crews to use school property, the New Hanover County Board of Education returned the policy to the board’s policy committee for further consideration.

Film crews are currently exempt from facility use fees, paying only a staff fee to cover the cost of a custodian or other employee working beyond normal hours to provide access to school property. The policy follows the spirit of a 2000 law requiring state agencies to waive fees for film crews using state facilities.

Other organizations not related to the students or parents pay the facility use fee, prompting board member Lisa Estep to initiate a conversation about the policy during a June 3 policy committee meeting.

Estep said she would like for the policy to be fair and consistent, preferably opening the facilities to everyone, rather than carve out an exception for one industry.

Board member Dr. Derrick Hickey said waived fees welcome the film industry to Wilmington and New Hanover County. He said schools could suggest donations from film crews in the amount of fees waived, although he noted that crews typically donate more than the sum of waived fees.

Chairman Don Hayes suggested the schools benefit from allowing film crews to use the facilities, not only from donations but also from painting and other improvements film crews sometimes make when using the facilities.

Assistant superintendent of operations Bill Hance confirmed that donations exceed what the county would reap in fees.

“Over a five-year period, we would have only charged the film industry based on our fees, about $65,000 … and in a short period of two years or less, the film industry has made donations in excess of $40,000,” Hance said.

Hance said film crews have paid $22,000 for staff fees during the same five-year period.

New Hanover County Commission Vice Chair Beth Dawson and Wilmington Regional Film Commission Director Johnny Griffin spoke to the board before the discussion, requesting continuation of the current policy.

Griffin said the film industry appreciates the relationship it shares with New Hanover County Schools. He added that production crews have always responded to the commission’s encouragement to make donations in exchange for using school facilities, often choosing to award contributions without fanfare or public recognition.

The board also received an update on 2014-15 fiscal year budget.

New Hanover County Schools will operate on a provisional budget drafted with guidance from the state Department of Public Instruction until lawmakers agree on a state budget.

The Senate and House proposed markedly different spending plans, especially in funding long-awaited teacher pay raises. Mary Hazel Small, chief financial officer for New Hanover County Schools, told the board the provisional plan assumes no adjustment for salary raises. The provisional budget will be amended when the legislature reaches a consensus.

The board will meet for a work session, where they will discuss the budget among other issues, July 17.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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