The Church of Christ in Canton

Canton Journal/August 16, 2000
By Bill Thibeault

Now that you've had a week to reflect on what I told you last week about how for the past three-and-a-half years the Boston Church of Christ has been renting and packing the 900-seat Morse Auditorium at Canton High School for their Sunday morning religious services, let's pick up where I left off.

You'll recall I told you that this rental agreement was unanimously approved by the School Committee in February of 1997 after School Committee legal counsel Michael Loughran gave them his opinion that the church rental of Canton school property for religious activities is legal ... an opinion that I don't share ... and neither should you.

According to Superintendent Allen Brown, the church uses our high school property on the average of about 30 Sundays during the course of a year, and we have to surmise that because it isn't air conditioned they don't use it very much in the summer ... perhaps a couple of times, at most.

According to Brown, the church has been a "trouble free tenant for us" and added that they pay their bills on time, and that no one, to his knowledge, has received any citizen complaints about them.

This rental agreement hasn't exactly been a secret, but you could say that it certainly hasn't been what you'd call public knowledge, either. It was done with little, if any, publicity or fanfare, and since the arrangement has been so lucrative for the Canton school system, everyone seems to have intentionally ignored the propriety or legality of it ... until now.

What I didn't get into last week was how much money the church has been paying to the Canton school department each week for the privilege of using not only the Morse Auditorium, but also the music room in the rear, and the cafeteria ... as well as an occasional classroom here and there for four hours on Sunday mornings.

Superintendent Brown tells us that the prevailing rental fee, as set by the School Committee for the three primary areas has been $950 per Sunday, which is the same that other groups pay. And when they use additional classrooms, there's an additional charge of $50 per classroom.

School Committee building use policy also requires the church to pay overtime rates for a school custodian to be present to open and close the building, and to clean the area after use.

According to Brown, several others rent the auditorium over the course of a year, but the church is by far "the largest revenue producing renter."

So what does that mean, you ask? Well if you do a little simple multiplication, you can readily see that this church rental arrangement generates almost $30,000 per year, and over the course of the past three-and-a-half years, the Boston Church of Christ has paid our school department more than $100,000 ... which is not a bad piece of change.

So the next question you reasonably might like to ask is what happened to all that money? In his letter, Brown says the money goes into the school department's revolving account " to be used to purchase custodial supplies for the district." Brown added, "We anticipate such revenue based on past history when developing our annual budget, and where we typically spend about $43,000 for custodial supplies, we budget only approximately $10,000 in anticipation of rental income making up the difference of $33,000."

In other words, instead of prudently and logically using the money for some one-time expenditures because of the uncertain and unguaranteed nature of tenant-at-will rental agreements, Brown and the school committee have placed themselves in a precarious fiscal position where they're now relying on the uncertain income from the weekly church rental ... and if the rental has to be halted because it isn't legal, or the church decides to pull the plug and go elsewhere, the school budget would then have an expensive underfunded problem.

Then there's the additional problem that the school department must also comply with provisions of Uniform Procurement Act, Mass. General Laws Chapter 30B, Section 16 which is triggered because the annual rental income exceeds $25,000 in value.

Among several things, it requires that the school department must declare the property available for such rental, and it must properly establish the value of the property being rented (the $950 figure) "through procedures customarily accepted by the appraising profession as valid" ... and prior to renting the property, proposals must be solicited.

So there you have it ... some serious food for thought to mull over ... both for you, and for Supt. Brown and the School Committee.

In the meantime, I'll have more on this church rental thing for you next week.

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