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Janesville schools gifts policy questioned

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Frank Schultz
September 25, 2013

JANESVILLE—At least one Janesville School Board member is questioning whether school officials should solicit gifts from companies that do business with the district.

A proposed change to the board's gifts policy bans only two officials from asking for gifts—the chief financial officer and purchasing manager.

Bill Sodemann told fellow school board members Tuesday that allowing other officials to solicit gifts crosses a dangerous line.

Sodemann stressed he is certain the administration operates honestly, but he said this policy could call that honesty into question.

“It invites pay-to-play accusations, whether it's true or not,” he said.

Sodemann suggested anyone who wanted to make a donation could do so, but officials should not be asking for donations.

Vendors could get the idea they should be donating in order to get the district's business, Sodemann said.

Board members Kristin Hesselbacher and David DiStefano disagreed.

Hesselbacher noted the proposal says no gift can be related to district purchases.

“I think we have very ethical people working for us. If we ever have any question about that, that's a different issue,” she said.

DiStefano pointed to donor-funded buildings at universities all over the country, because people who have been successful want to leave a legacy.

The school district has successful graduates and could also tap that desire to give back and be remembered, DiStefano said.

Those donations rarely arrive without someone asking, DiStefano said. “You need to ask.”

Superintendent Karen Schulte said teachers, coaches and others have solicited from local businesses for years, often for small amounts to boost their programs, “So I'm not totally sure why the concern is coming up now.”

Sodemann said administrators asking for gifts is different from a teacher asking for Dilly Bars for a class incentive.

“I don't question the intent and the honorability. I just think it comes off as influence peddling,” Sodemann said.

Other board members did not say which way they might vote on the policy, which could come up for a vote at the Oct. 8 board meeting.

 



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