April 24, 2014

KORA requests yield inconsistencies in school facility usage forms

Rhonda Humble
Publisher
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.

Non-profit status
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.

Facilities used
“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.

Insurance
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.

Email communication

Comments

  1. “Who is liable?” Who cares.

    Are we now thinking it is news to do an “expose” on a young lady who is doing something good in leading and mentoring other youth in our community just because GN has a perpetual axe to grind with USD 231? Sad.

    Walter, I’m curious to know whether you’ve settled the bill with the district for your KORA request? According to the USD 231 website (Reference 09/04/12 – Walter Hermreck, $122.47 Request completed, not picked up/not paid – at http://www.usd231.com/webUSD231/Forms/SubPage.aspx?menu=673_207_2

    If not, I am covering your debt as a tax payer and would appreciate you settling up.

  2. ABloom – The question that is asked in the article is pertinent. I am a conservative and believe that we should encourage entrepenuers when we can; however, you would have to admit that there is a little bit of irony when one Gary Diener makes an annoucement and changes the facility usage policy to ensure that the school usage policy was applied fair and equitably and it turns out that a relative is circumventing the rules put in place. I have no problems with a youth ‘doing something good and mentoring other youth in the community’ so long as it is done properly, which in this case appears not to be the case.

    Additionally, the question of liability is definately a good one especially since the activity in question is a for profit business that involves atheletic activity. In the unfortunate event that the instructor or one of her students were injured, it is entirely possible that USD 231 could face a lawsuit since this activity is known to be taking place in the school without the appropriate forms filled out.

    So if you don’t believe that having a for-profit business being run out of a school facility isn’t a big deal, that is fine, but there are others that may be interested in having a better understanding of the situation.

  3. Who cares who is liable? One would think the tax payers would care. Why does our USD have a policy in place if it is used in a selective manner? Your logic on this point is faulty for a couple of reasons. They were not exposed for doing something good, the person was exposed because they appear to be getting favorable treatment from the USD and perhaps filling out documents in a fraudulent manner for personal gain. I do not have an axe to grind, I only want fairness and transparency from our USD.

    Concerning the $122.47, I simply asked for the USD policy on activity funds and was charged $122.47. Debbie and I both spoke with Leann Northway (Director of Communications) face to face about this matter. During our meeting she admitted that it seemed excessive. Ms. Northway pointed us to the Policy Book where we found the policy ourselves. I refused to pay $122.47 for something this simple. I still have the email showing exactly what I requested from the USD with a KORA request. I asked for the same thing from 2 other districts and was not charged anything for the information. I would be happy to provide any citizen with a copy of the original KORA request if they would like to see for themselves if I asked for $122.47 worth of documents.

    I have called and emailed the USD on multiple occasions concerning their procedure for handling a KORA request grievance without it going to the JoCo District Attorney. I have sought a reasonable resolution on this matter and have come up short on all occasions. The unfortunate thing is that now it will have to be corrected by the office of the JoCo DA.

    In the future if you have personal accusations to make I would cordially invite you to find the courage to not do it anonymously. I could have given this information to the paper anonymously but I chose not to because I can see the difference between right and wrong. Can you?

  4. Walter,
    Two questions from the article:
    1. Did you or anyone else confirm the non-profit nature of Matti’s Majorette’s other than reviewing a 2011 post on the Gardner Edge?

    2. Did you or anyone else confirm whether the facility was paid for by Ms. Diener? “documentation of any fees charged by or paid to USD 231″

    I wonder about libel rather than liable at this point.

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