School board to consider rentals from its staff

Sean C. Morgan

Supt. Keith Winslow will return to the School Board with a much narrower version of a proposal to allow the Sweet Home School District to rent employee-owned equipment, such as a scissor lift or excavator, following a cold response from some board members to the idea during their regular meeting on Dec. 14.

While some board members were OK with the proposal, others were concerned about its impact on the private sector and other issues. The concept is something Winslow said he thought would be used rarely anyway, but would have been useful a couple of times in the past year.

As it stands, when the district rents equipment, it must go out of town to find it, and that takes time.

In emergency situations or on a weekend, it may be helpful to go ahead and use equipment available locally, Winslow told The New Era.

“In those kinds of cases, we’re not going to be stepping on toes.”

The district doesn’t rent staff-owned equipment now, Winslow told the board last week. If members approved of his proposal to revise the policy, someone in the district, most likely Business Manager Kevin Strong or someone in his office, would be mandated to ensure that the rental is the least expensive among alternatives.

“Say we needed an excavator for half a day,” Strong said. “We would compare the cost of renting an excavator to what someone on our staff would charge for using theirs.”

He or someone on his staff would call around and ask for rates, he said. “We would document that and keep that as a record in case someone questioned why we did what we did.”

“I just see the potential for a lot of controversy,” said Jenny Daniels, board member. “I can see where people might not be happy with that if it happened a lot.”

That’s why the district would need to carefully document it, Strong said.

Angela Clegg, board member, said she likes to encourage savings but not discourage competition.

“Surely, anyone who wanted to donate their equipment at a lower cost, we’d sure take that,” Winslow said.

But the employee knows what the rent would be, said Carol Babcock, board member; and it would be easy for the employee to charge less.

Even if it is the best deal, she can see problems with local vendors losing out if employees are also vendors, she said. It stifles competition.

“There’s none of these vendors in Sweet Home?” asked Chairman Mike Reynolds. If not, “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Strong outlined a situation where this would have been a useful policy.

A couple of years ago the district had a problem with the drainfield at Holley School, he said. With short notice, the district needed to dig. But under the current policy, the district had to go rent equipment elsewhere, at a premium.

A couple of district employees have gear they could rent, potentially, Winslow told The New Era. One of them is Josh Darwood, who has owned and operated a construction business in Sweet Home for years. He also has donated work and contracted with the district prior to becoming maintenance superintendent.

Jason Redick, board member, was concerned about what might happen if another employee failed to check the oil, for example, and damaged a $20,000 engine. A rental company addresses that in its contract.

That’s something the district could address as well, Strong said.

Beyond the immediate problem of broken equipment is a potential employee issue, Redick noted. “All of a sudden, Mike’s (for example) mad at Chanz (for example) because he didn’t check the oil.”

That’s something the district could work around, Strong said.

But the more the district does it, the more it comes back to competition, Daniels said.

“I think we’re stifling competition,” Babcock said.

Present at the meeting were board members Angela Clegg, Jenny Daniels, Chanz Keeney, Jason Redick, Chairman Mike Reynolds, Nick Augsburger, Debra Brown and Carol Babcock. Jason Van Eck was absent.

In other business, the board:

– Learned that upcoming Public Employees Retirement System costs would rise substantially next year, possibly by about $440,000, according to information provided by Strong.

– Approved a trip for junior high students to New York City for April 26 to May 3 to experience fine and performing arts in a large city, live in a culturally diverse urban setting, learn to navigate and explore a big city and establish independence for young adults.

-Accepted the resignation of Molly Dorris, language arts teacher at Sweet Home High School, effective Dec. 8.