WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Imagine raising someone's rent amid the biggest public health crisis in a century.
That's exactly what the School District of Palm Beach County did to groups who rent space inside publicly funded schools.
Last June, in the middle of the worst health crisis in a century, the school board voted to raise prices on renting space from the district.
The changes impacted Scott Yebba, the owner of SportsTyme summer camp.
"We were (paying) about $3,000 a week to lease this facility here in Jupiter," he told Contact 5.
Contact 5 asked him what the school district wants to charge him now.
"I had the bookkeeper (run) the lease, and it would be $14,600 a week," he said.
For nearly two decades, Yebba's summer camp has called Independence Middle School home, except, of course, last summer as the pandemic raged on.
"Who gets together and meets and raises prices during the summer of one of the worst pandemics ever? That's what they did," Yebba explained.
Yebba told Contact 5 the district's "minor procedural" rate change approved last summer increased his rent by nearly 500%.
The district now requires all facilities listed on a lease to be rented for the same number of hours.
"So I'm paying 27 hours for a nine-hour lease day," Yebba said.
Kristin Garrison's department at the school district oversees leasing.
"I think that they benefited from a very generous rate structure that was in place those two decades they were leasing from us," Garrison said.
Contact 5 asked Garrison why the rate and procedural changes were brought to the board last summer in the middle of the pandemic.
"As I said, the supervision, and particularly compliance with COVID provisions, was of utmost importance to us," Garrison said.
Garrison claims the changes came after a district study found rental rates, in some cases, "were lower than other opportunities."
"I think it's fair to say that we do need to at least recoup our costs and making the facilities available, but not necessarily to make a large profit," she said.
Garrison said the district is trying to recover "utilities and maintenance costs" and to "ensure adequate supervision of the spaces that are being rented."
The district also now requires a two-hour minimum for leases that occur on non-school days.
The changes could impact more than 300 churches, nonprofits and other commercial businesses that lease from the district.
Contact 5 asked Garrison if the district was losing money on some of these leases.
"On many of them, yes," she said.
Garrison later said the district didn't know how much money it lost over the years due to its policy in place prior to this change.
"I don't have that information off the top of my head," she said.
When asked if the district ever did a study to try to develop that number, Garrison answered, "No."
So Contact 5 asked her how the district knows that it lost money.
"Just in discussing it with our utilities manager and all that's involved in preparing a school for a lease on non-school days," she said.
The owner of SportsTyme told Contact 5 that to avoid going out of business, he recently rented less space for twice the price from the district.
"I am pretty sure that they are not losing a dime having SportsTyme here with the way the lease arrangement's been," Yebba said. "Because if they had been, and I've been leasing this for 20 years under these types of agreements, then who was asleep at the wheel for 20 years while they've been renting this facility to me?"