If you want to volunteer your time at a local Vernon school, you now have to pay to do so.
The City of Vernon has upped the fee for getting a criminal record check, which is often mandatory for working with children. Non-profits and schools used to get the checks for free, but now the city is charging $25 per copy. That's less than the general public has to pay, but the Vernon school district says it won't ask volunteers to spend any money to donate their time.
School board chair Bill Turanski says hundreds of adults volunteer with the school each year. If the school board took on the costs for each of them to get a criminal record check, he estimates the price tag could be as much as $25,000.
"We really appreciated that they were free," Turanski says. "We have a large number of individuals that assist in our schools, with after school sports, our reading program and a whole other spectrum of opportunities. They're not permitted to volunteer without a criminal record check."
He says the school district was completely unaware of the fee change until a week ago. Had they been aware, he says the school district would have included financing the criminal record checks in their budget for the coming school year. Now, it's too late, and Turanski isn't sure how the district will find the money.
"We're not going to make people pay to volunteer," Turanski says. "We feel these people are already contributing enough."
The school district has written a letter to the city asking them to reconsider their decision. Coun. Brian Quiring says the impact on schools and non-profits was part of the original discussion, but says no one realized how much of an impact it might have.
"I'm pushing hard to have this reviewed," Quiring says. "I definitely think some (council) members realize this may have been an error. The bottom line is things can't stay the way they are."
Coun. Catherine Lord believes there's a way to keep the fee as is while also easing financial pressures with the school. She says the number of criminal record checks has shot up and too much RCMP time is being devoted to running them.
"We thought, we just can't do this for free anymore," Lord says.
At the same time, she says many of the individuals in line for a check don't actually need them. "I'd like to see if we can pull all the non-profits and the schools together for a session on when they need one and when they don't."
She believes educating the public on when they can use a photocopy rather than an original record check would make a difference in the volume of people applying for one.
"I'm torn because I know what volunteers do and how hard it is to get them, but if we can get a system that makes the process more efficient, that could make it easier," Lord says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)309-5230.