Janesville school board to discuss policy changes on gifts, endorsements

Comments Comments Print Print
Friday, August 23, 2013

JANESVILLE—Endorsements by the Janesville School District or its employees should be regulated by a new policy, a school board committee recommended Friday.

The school board's personnel, policy and curriculum committee also agreed Friday on a handful of changes to policies on gifts and donations to the district.

The issue of gifts, donations and endorsements landed on the committee's agenda after situations this summer that raised concerns for some board members.

In one, Superintendent Karen Schulte was featured in a cover story for “Great People. Great Stories,” a Mercy Health System marketing publication.

The story told of her eye surgery in February. Some of the information was repeated in a subsequent newspaper ad that appeared about the same time district employees were choosing between two health-insurance options, one a Mercy product and another that included a variety of local providers.

Schulte said at the time that she agreed to appear in the marketing materials in exchange for a donation to the district, but she said she did so as a private citizen, not as the district's superintendent. The article included Schulte's title and showed her at work at the district's central office.

The other case that caught board members' attention was a trip to China by Schulte and other district employees to lay groundwork for an international education program. A district graduate who was among the donors asked to remain anonymous so he wasn't flooded with requests for money.

On the endorsement issue, the committee agreed to remove a phrase from an existing policy that says a gift can be accepted only if “the gift will not result in district endorsement of any business or product.”

According to a memo provided the committee by school district attorney David Moore, administration believes endorsements of worthy vendors are consistent with the district's best interests.

“If the board wishes to restrict endorsements, it may want to consider the distinction between endorsement of services and products provided to the district and services and products provided to individuals who are employees of the district,” Moore wrote.

In suggesting a separate policy, Moore said the board also might want to make a distinction between endorsements based on experiences with specific businesses versus promoting them without prior experience.

Board and committee member Kevin Murray said Friday he still was struggling to get a handle on endorsements

“Whether as an individual or a district as a whole to infer to the public that we are favoring a service or a product or a business over somebody else's … how do we not do that?” Murray asked.

In relation to gifts to the district, the committee agreed to change its policy to allow district personnel, not just the board, to accept gifts or money. Board approval, however, would be required for any gift in excess of $10,000.

The committee also agreed that district administrators should inform the board on strategic alliances that involve the commitment of district funds or significant amounts of district resources—including employee time.

The policy originally was rewritten to include the reference to district funds, but it was changed after Murray suggested it be broadened to include district resources.

While not pointing any fingers, Murray said he felt board members should be better informed when district employees are making significant contributions of time to projects, such as recent trips to China.

Murray said that while trips to China or elsewhere support the district's goal of generating new students and revenue, they often don't require the use of district funds. But such travel, he said, takes employees away from their daily activities in Janesville, and that has an effect on the district.

The full board will take up the suggested policy changes at its meeting Tuesday.

The new policy on endorsements likely will return to the committee before heading to the full board at a future meeting.

Comments Comments Print Print