MURRAY — The Granite Board of Education unanimously approved a new donations policy Tuesday night, despite protests and pleadings from many in the Cottonwood High community.
The policy prevents people who donate more than $500 to a school in a year from participating in any decision-making role in any school program. It also more clearly informs donors that anything given to a school becomes the property of the district and the donor has no control over how it is used.
Granite School District Superintendent Martin Bates said it was difficult for the board to vote for the change in the face of overwhelming opposition.
"But they're not the only people we heard from (on this issue)," he said of those in attendance Tuesday night. "That's not the whole Cottonwood community. This wasn't unexpected."
District officials expected objections from parents and patrons associated with Cottonwood High. They understood how much affection the school has for former Colts offensive coordinator Scott Cate, who was told two weeks ago he could no longer coach the football team because he has donated more than $4 million to Cottonwood High over 13 years.
One of those who tried to convince the board to reject, or at least amend the policy, was Cottonwood alum Stanley Havili. He transferred from East High after his freshman year and he went from having a 0.7 GPA to graduating and attending USC on a scholarship. He fought back emotions as he talked about how some of his friends were now in jail or dead because they didn't have the opportunities that he had.
"Scott gave money, but he gave more than that," said Havili, who now plays fullback for the Philadelphia Eagles. "He helps us graduate. I'm pretty sure I'd be working at the airport throwing bags on an airplane if it wasn't for Scott."
Those who spoke said Cate did more than give money and argued that people should not have to choose between giving money or time to the causes they care about — especially education. The new policy forces people to only give one or the other if they want to be in a decision-making role.
"Scott Cate brought our community together," said Charles Hosea, who has had three sons play football at Cottonwood. "This feels like big government that makes choices that limits our opportunities. ... We're grateful for philanthropists like Scott Cate, who gives in his own way to benefit people."
Other parents said it was hard not to believe the rule was directed at Cate, but the district insists it is an issue brought to light by recent problems at Timpview High School and the subsequent state ethics training that all schools were required to participate in.
Three separate audits at the Provo school found financial irregularities or problems with how finances were handled by the school and its football program.
"Whether people believe it or not, this is not about Scott Cate," Bates said. "It's about the training we've gotten from the state office, about the concerns we see in other places, and it's about our own experience with folks who make donations and then think they can influence the program. That's not something that should happening a public school."
Parent Greg Ford asked why some of the equipment Cate took with him when he was released hasn't been replaced. Quarterback Cooper Bateman said the players began full-contact practices without girdles, knee pads and shoulder pads that fit. They also had just four footballs on Monday, he said.
District officials said those items had been ordered and they were doing their best to replace the items necessary to run the program efficiently and safely.
Granite Assistant Superintendent Mike Fraser said the district purchased the new uniforms that Cate had purchased for the season.
The parents in attendance promised to continue their efforts to change the policy, even after Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Millcreek, spoke at the meeting and said he was committed to sponsoring a bill making the new district rule a statewide law.
Some of the parents wondered why the rule was aimed at donors when the problems arose with how the district handled donations. Bates said he understands that concern because many of the issues involved a lack of education or understanding of how the kindness of donors could run afoul of state laws governing the ethics of public employees.
"I’m responsible for that," he said of how school administrators district-wide failed to manage donations properly. "That's why I think this is good policy; it protects all of us. I can't sit back and not do anything knowing what I know today. I’m responsible to protect my people. I think they were unaware they were across the line."
Fraser said that he believes the problem is statewide and that most teachers are poorly informed about the state law that prevents them from taking any gift that might influence them.
"Across the board, we have not, in every single school district, and at the state school board level, not done a good job of training our educators on our ethics act," said Fraser.
The new training attempts to do that, while the new policy more clearly spells out how donations are handled and what donors can and cannot do if they give.