The school district’s recent change to its facilities usage policy had social media sites buzzing and some area residents wondering if the changes – which include fees for organizations using taxpayer-funded premises – are being applied equally.
Board of education members adopted changes to the school usage policy last summer. At the time, Gary Diener, director of operations for the school district, said the goal of the changes was to ensure that the school usage policy is fair and equitable. Increased fees on weekends and when school is not in session are to cover the costs of opening buildings.
Walter Hermreck, district patron, said he received information that the policy was not being applied equally and made several Kansas Open Records requests, as well as trying to contact district personnel for an explanation.
Inconsistencies in facilities usage requests that were obtained include:
• lack of current/correct insurance documentation
• no verification/definition of non profit status
• incorrect or incomplete information on exact premises used
• documentation of any fees charged by or paid to USD 231
Hermreck said he decided to bring the information to the Gardner News after calls and e mails for clarification went unanswered.
“I think people need to know that I made several attempts to contact Leann Northway, the director of communications via email and messages on both her office and cell phone,” Hermreck said. “Out of fairness we wanted to first and foremost to address this with the USD but that didn’t happen.”
Emails from the Gardner News to Northway, Gary Diener and school board members also went unanswered.
One concern regards the child of district employees who uses the high school commons area after school and on Sundays to teach a class/camp.
In a Nov. 7, 2011 e mail sent to Hermreck from a USD 231 e-mail account Lessie Diener, employee, writes, “ We had Matti’s Majorettes’ last year, which was a little group she started, but then they changed the gym usage – started charging for the use of the gym, so we are re-thinking that one. She’s doing privates here at Gardner Edgerton High School.”
The request form obtained indicates the group is not for profit.
A news release from the group and posted on he Gardneredge also seems to indicate the group in question may be for private..
The Nov. 11, 2011 posted notice for the majorette team indicates the cost is $25 a month, not including baton, costume or entry fees in preparation for the state twirling competition. The announcement, which provides an e mail address apparently used by Lessie Diener, states the group’s first meeting will be at 5 p.m. Nov. 22 in the Sunflower Elementary Gym.
The request form supplied under a KORA request regarding the group indicates the group is not for profit, but the date of November 22 is not listed on form, nor is an insurance provider or chaperone’s name provided. The request (documents available online at www.gardnernews.com) is dated Nov. 2, 2011 and is signed by Lessie M. Diener.
“With privates we don’t need the use of an entire gym – so often she’s just in the commons teaching,” Lessie continues in an e mail.
However, all forms obtained under KORA and signed by Lessie Diener requesting to use district facilities indicate the gymnasium will be used rather than the commons area.
Facility usage when school is not in session
“She can start as early as 3:30, Tues. thru Thursday,” Diener wrote. “She’s also teaching Sunday afternoons.”
According to a letter sent to district patrons earlier this year, Gary Diener wrote, “The school usage policy outlines fees and requirements to rent school space. Specifically, a fee will be assessed for custodial supervision time if the facility request falls outside the custodian’s normal work day. Sunday usage, with the exception of churches, will be limited to usage times between 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.”
On the Request for Use of USD 231 District Facilities form, provided under a KORA request, there is no indication of, or space for, proposed, assessed or paid fees, nor is there a formula with which patrons can determine possible fees.
The request form, which appears to have last been updated in October, 2008, asks for name of the insurance provider and policy number, yet two of the Diener request forms – November 2011 and February 2012 – do not have insurance information included.
The form clearly states: “All users will be required to show proof of liability insurance and will be required to provide a certificate of liability insurance in the amount of $1 million with USD 231 cited as `additional insured` before use of the facility is approved.”
When Debbie Hickman, district patron, requested additional up-to-date information through a KORA request, she was supplied facilities requests by Lessie Diener for May 2012 with the insurance carrier and policy number written in what appears to be different handwriting.
“It looks like somebody called for the information and then wrote it in,” Hickman said.
When Hickman then requested a copy of the certificate of insurance, a Homeowners Policy Declarations page listing Marvin and Lessie Diener as insured was provided. It does not indicate USD 231 is an additional insured, and personal liability limit listed is $300,000 with medical payments of $1,000 per person.
The required certificate of liability listing USD 231 as an additional insured for $1 million, if available, was not received.
Hermreck said he and Hickman questioned if the district was assuming liability since required proof of insurance was not available, and they wondered whether a homeowners declaration page would suffice considering there were inconsistencies about the group’s not for profit status.
“Who’s liable?” they asked.
Emails sent to the district asking for clarification regarding information received under the KORA requests and whether there are plans to update the forms to reflect the policy change were unanswered as of this writing. A call to Lessie Diener was also not returned.
“It seems that if there is something happening within the USD that is not something they can spin as completely positive then they don’t want to deal with it,” Hermreck said. “This situation is just a symptom of a larger issue within the USD based on my opinion.”
Information will be updated if it is received.