School Board progresses with policy on equipment rentals from staff

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home School Board voted Monday night to hold the first reading next month of a policy revision that will detail how district officials may occasionally rent equipment from employees.

The board’s reception of the proposal last month was cold, with concerns about ethics, conflict of interest and competing with private businesses; but the board was open to discussion about emergency circumstances.

The proposal arose as a way to save money and time driving to another city to rent equipment.

“We were going to come back with some kind of emergency clause,” Supt. Keith Winslow said.

He returned to the board Monday night during its regular meeting with additional information and proposed policy language.

Winslow said he ran the district’s current policy by the Oregon School Boards Association for an opinion, and based on the OSBA review, he believes the district policy would allow the district to rent employee-owned equipment, such as an excavator or lift, as it is now.

It simply has not been the district’s practice in the past, he said. He believes that state ethics regulations also would allow the practice.

As long as the process is transparent, it shouldn’t pose any conflict of interest issues either, he said.

A proposed policy revision would require a district official to contact at least three rental businesses for a price quote prior to renting from an employee. The employee cannot be involved and would need to sign a waiver releasing the district from any liability for damage to the equipment except when caused by the district’s negligence.

Chanz Keeney, board member, asked the superintendent to read the first paragraph of an ethics policy revision that also was on Monday’s agenda as a first reading.

“No district employee will use his or her district position to obtain personal financial benefit,” begins the paragraph.

The difference is who is making the decisions and how, said Business Manager Kevin Strong.

It would be a problem, Strong explained, if he were to consider only his own equipment or if he was deciding whether to rent his own equipment.

If anyone else in the community wanted to rent equipment to the district at a lower cost, Winslow said, the district would be open to it.

“Would this be an exception rather than the rule,” said Carol Babcock, a board member who was among concerned about the proposal a month ago. “I would be more comfortable with that.”

Yes, Winslow told her. He can think of only a couple of times where it would have been useful in the past year.

Each time the district does it, a detailed report would go to the School Board, Winslow said. It will show who called rental businesses for quotes along with prices.

“At any time you can say this doesn’t feel good,” Winslow said. Neither he nor Strong have strong opinions on the subject.

“I am very comfortable with this change,” said Debra Brown, board member. Checking with three rental businesses addresses the concerns.

Angela Clegg, board member, said she thought it still opens a can with a couple more worms in it with public perception.

Jenny Daniels, board member, said she would be more comfortable with it after adjusting the language of the proposed policy revisions to require a detailed report to the School Board and as long as “it doesn’t become more the rule rather than the exception.”

Present at the meeting were Jason Van Eck, Clegg, Keeney, Daniels, Jason Redick, Chairman Mike Reynolds, Babcock and Brown.

In other business:

-Winslow told the board that the application period for superintendent ended Friday, and 18 had applied, 10 from Oregon and eight from outside the state.

Screening was planned for Tuesday and Wednesday with a search committee meeting Thursday night to decide who to interview. Interviews will be held Feb. 2 through Feb. 4, and the committee will narrow down the field further for a second round of interviews and site visits.

“I was pleased with the candidate group,” Winslow said. “We have some strong candidates. I think it’ll be a challenge to us.”

-The board adopted a calendar for its 2016-2017 budget process.

-The board approved a trip to Redding, Calif., for the Sweet Home High School baseball team, which will compete in a tournament there March 23 to March 26.

-Held the first reading of policy revisions on the district’s sexual conduct complaint form, Title I, parental involvement, comparability compliance and the process for annual review of parent involvement.