Utah high schools change how they accept gifts, donations

Investigations spur districts to spell out policies on donations

Published: Friday, July 6 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Granite District assistant superintendent Mike Fraser said: "We've had dozens of instances where we've had concerns. Our concern is how that impacts kids and whether we're providing equal access to all activities to all students."

Granite spokesman Ben Horsley offers two examples:

At one school a parent involved in helping with a musical program donated significant items, including costumes and sets, then wanted influence in choosing who the play's acting lead.

A booster club parent purchased and donated uniforms. When a decision was made that the parent disagreed with, this parent tried to use those items as leverage to change the coach's decision.

"It's an across-the-board problem," said Horsley of fundraising and donations. "With the Timpview incident, it demonstrated some issues, and then the state conducted a number of trainings, and we wanted to provide our administrators, our coaches and our teachers as much guidance as possible about how they are to proceed."

In both districts, how donations were handled really was left to a principal's discretion. In some cases, principals were careful and had donors sign forms that say the donations now belong to the district. In other cases, principals were grateful for the help and didn't know the law required more of them.

"I think there was some confusion about the process, particularly about accepting gifts," Horsley said.

With the new policies, every step of the process is outlined in writing.

"The donor is notified that once the contribution is made it becomes the school's property, to be used at the school's discretion," said Horsley, a sentiment that is conveyed in Provo's policy as well.

There is one difference.

In Granite boosters can no longer participate in decision-making roles.

Provo eliminated the volunteer option. So, for example, the Timpview football program now employs several boosters as assistant coaches, men who have been supportive of the school and district financially and previously volunteered their services to the school's coaches. Those boosters are now bound by the ethical and legal constraints of any other public employee.

"The board and district felt it was important to have consistency," said Hudnall. "The one way to do that is to have everyone as employees. Then everyone has to play by the same rules."

Still, Provo officials are intrigued by the action taken by Granite officials.

"Granite's policy is interesting and it's something we'll look at," said Hudnall, who points out that public school administrators often share experiences with each other. "It doesn't mean we're going to adopt it. … But we'll look at it, and if there are pieces we like, we'd propose them to the board."

Granite officials don't believe the new policy will inhibit future donations because they have many donors who are not affiliated with a school or programs. "There have been a lot of prominent people who give to schools in the Granite District, and say, 'I don't want my name out there. I'm doing this because I really believe in public education.' And kids have benefited greatly from these private donations."

"This is not a 'Cate rule,' " Horsley said. "But there are concerns with the situation at Cottonwood. We do not want to diminish in any way his considerable generosity. We certainly wish him well as he moves onto something new, and it cannot be overstated enough how appreciative the district is for his support of the entire school."

Cate said he's not bitter about the change, just baffled. He said he never was asked to sign anything over to the school or the district.

"Nobody asked me about donating," he said. "I wasn't writing it off. That's not why I was doing it."

In fact, he contends Cottonwood administrators and coaches were told, more than once, by district officials that if they needed something athletics-related they should ask Cate to pay for it.

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