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Janesville School Board considers gifts policy

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Frank Schultz
September 18, 2013

JANESVILLE—Some Janesville School Board members have thrown a new idea into their ongoing discussion of gifts and ethics: What if the district hired a director of development?

Board member David DiStefano on Wednesday proposed the new position as a way of keeping other employees from having to deal with the ethical issues of soliciting donations from companies that do business with the district.

The discussion was part of a school board committee meeting.

Superintendent Karen Schulte liked the idea of keeping other employees away from soliciting donations, but she said she would, at some point, have to be involved in some donations, such as those for endowments.

Board member Scott Feldt said the superintendent is a special case and should be involved in donations.

The committee decided to continue discussion of a development director at its meeting next month.

The discussion arose out of recent incidents involving gifts to the district. One was a $10,000 gift that helped pay for trips to China as part of the superintendent's international initiative.

The gift was given by a district vendor who wanted anonymity, but Superintendent Karen Schulte eventually revealed who it was: Rhyme Business Products, which does a lot of business with the district and whose president is Mike Steinhoff, a 1978 graduate of Craig High School.

The other incident was Schulte's appearance in Mercy Health System advertising in which she told the story of her eye surgery. In return, Schulte asked Mercy to donate computer equipment.

The incidents were not illegal, but they raised questions. One of Schulte's responses has been that she's thinking outside the box to increase district revenues during tough times.

The specific incidents didn't come up Wednesday, but the committee did amend proposed changes to the district's gifts policy and sent the revised policy on to the full board for consideration. The board meets Tuesday.

The proposed policy requires the administration to inform the board of any gifts valued at $2,500 or more.

The committee discussed but rejected the idea that the board approve certain large gifts.

The policy also says the district CFO and purchasing manager may not solicit gifts from district vendors or potential vendors.

Further, the amended policy removes the ban on gifts that result in the district endorsing a business or product. The committee did not discuss this change.

The committee also postponed discussion of a new policy covering “testimonials,” or endorsements. The policy says such endorsements must first be approved by the superintendent, and no testimonial will be given if a payment is involved.

District employees could make personal testimonials if they do not do so as district employees. A football coach, for instance, would not be able to endorse a product if he was asked to do so because he is well known through his job.

The full board could take up the gifts policy when it meets Tuesday.

Kevin Murray, who was prominent in raising the original issues, did not take any strong stands on the gifts policy.

“I'll wait for the board meeting,” Murray said.



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