Relationship Rocky Between School Board, Administration
The contentious relationship between the board and administration has been boiling over for months, beginning with very public comments made by teacher Kerri Jo Patten and board member Russ Spahn in June.
In the months since the April election brought three new members to the Greenfield School Board, one thing has become abundantly clear:
Some board members are determined to question all aspects of district business.
Two of the new members—Cathy Walsh, a longtime board member who returned after a two-year absence, and Russ Spahn, the city’s former fire chief—have consistently challenged Superintendent Conrad Farner and his administrative team on agenda item after agenda item.
The contentious relationship between the board and administration has been simmering for months, beginning with very public comments made by teacher Kerri Jo Patten and Spahn at the June 11 meeting.
Patten chastised administration for reassigning her from Maple Grove Elementary to the Middle School, and Spahn called the number of resignations and retirements at the district disturbing.
Walsh echoed Spahn’s sentiments six weeks later at the July 23 meeting, when the district’s resignations and retirements reached 16.
At that meeting, which included discussions about the 2012-13 preliminary budget, Greenfield NOW reported, Walsh also challenged some of the district’s financial dealings with the community revenue-generating activies fund and referendum money.
At the request of board member Don Carlson, Director of Business Services Kristin Kollath provided a report on the district’s community revenue-generating activities. In 2011-12, the district generated nearly $481,000 in revenue on community activities, $346,000 of which came from property taxes. Any costs associated with community services can be levied, Kollath said.
In addition, $122,000 in revenue came from facility rentals and $12,000 in fitness center usage. After factoring out expenses, which include portions of some district staff salaries, custodial services and payments to the city for a police liaison and crossing guard, the district was left with a net gain of $133,821 dollars.
“When I look at that number, and I was around when we started this idea, I don’t know if I can justify taxing the residents an additional $350,000 anymore,” she said. “What are they getting for it?
“Taxpayers are subsidizing these activities, the fitness center and the rentals to the tune of $212,000. We’d only be making money in the positive if we’re able to offset all of the property taxes, which we’re not.”
Walsh also questioned the district's use of Fund 80. She said a Department of Public Instruction presentation she reviewed indicated revenues from facility rentals belong in the general fund, or Fund 10, and that expenses such as the police liaison and crossing guards belong elsewhere as well.
“I don’t understand how the law is being interpreted as a philosophy,” Walsh said. “I’m all for community use of our buildings, but I think we need to be following the law and doing it as correctly as we possibly can.”
Kollath said rental revenues can be reported in Fund 10, but the district chooses not to – legally, she added – so custodial and other costs are paid with that revenue. She said the property tax levy in Fund 80 could be reduced for the upcoming budget, should the board choose to lower it, and added the district is audited every year and has “never had a problem.”
“I’m not breaking the law. I’m a little offended that that’s being implied here,” Kollath said. “I’ve followed district practice and protocol since prior to my time here. I’ll certainly make any adjustments that are necessary, but I have no intention to break the law.”
'We were hoping for more'
As for the net gain of nearly $134,000 in community service-based revenue, a large chunk came from increased facility rentals, which gained nearly $100,000 more than rentals the previous two years. That number still fell short of the $280,000 Farner estimated the district could make on rentals and the implementation of adult recreational activities back in January 2011.
“I think we were hoping to get more, but I’m not going to complain about getting $100,000 more in new revenue,” Farner said. “We thought community adult recreation programs would be an attractive thing but we found out it didn’t generate significant interest.
“We were definitely hoping for more, but that was all speculation.”
Board seeks more information
At the same meeting, Walsh asked that the board be privy to past, present and future expenditures related to the $37.8 million referendum passed in 2007 to build the new high school.
The fulcrum of her request was a concession stand built near the high school baseball diamond and tennis courts rumored to cost between $70,000-80,000. That Walsh and other board members had no idea it was going up has her mystified.
“I for one am not going to be embarrassed again as a board member and have to say, ‘I don’t know anything about it. I didn’t approve it,’” she said. “And I think, ‘It’s not my fault; I didn’t approve it.’ But it is my fault. I should have known.
“I love the improvements that were made (to the school), but I think we owe it to ourselves to know what the money was spent on.”
Farner said the concession stand’s price tag was high because water and sewer were hooked up to the facility with the idea that bathrooms could be added in the future. He said the stand pays for itself through revenue generated in concessions.
He added there are still some referendum funds remaining and said it is no problem if the board wants to determine how they are spent. He said, however, no referendum projects, including the concession stand, came in front of the board for approval. Authority to make referendum-related decisions was given to administrators by the board years ago.
“It’s too late to give authority, but I’d like to be informed,” Walsh said.
Monday's meeting marks the return of board member Rick Moze, who was defeated in the April election but emerged as the board's favorite of three candidates to replace Dave Richlen, who resigned in June.
The board will be once again asked to approve employee resignations, according to the agenda, and may take action on the 2012-13 updated preliminary budget. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20.