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Granite District drafting a policy on school gifts

It wants to prevent legal woes and to foster fairness

If you want to pass the basket to hire extra teachers, you might not have much luck in the Granite District.

But if you want to gather greenbacks to bring in an after-school French instructor, a classroom set of scissors or special field trip, you could get the go-ahead.

At least that would be the case under a new policy — perhaps unprecedented in its scope and detail — the district is getting ready to draft.

The policy follows requests for such donations and equity lawsuits in other states. Mainly, it would try to prevent legal problems.

But it wouldn't address everything. People still could donate to their own school. And, as Martin Bates, assistant to the superintendent on policy and law, puts it: "A bake sale at Skyline is going to take in more money than a bake sale at Granite High."

Still, disallowing the popular school-level donations could be like the district shooting itself in the foot.

"It probably would reduce the number of donations coming to the school district," superintendent Steve Ronnenkamp said.

Those comments were made this past week in a Granite Board of Education study session.

Community businesses and residents often donate to their schools, be it in gym equipment, baseball fields, construction paper or volunteer time.

Occasionally, the generosity raises questions.

Once, a person wanted to donate air conditioning. But the district found the air conditioners weren't powerful enough to effectively cool the building, plus they would require a power upgrade costing $100,000 to $200,000, assistant superintendent David Gourley said.

Other times, parents have sought to hire an extra teacher. The district has denied such requests, which would create unequal class sizes.

Gender equity is another consideration. A Florida lawsuit highlighted Title IX civil rights guarantees that boys and girls have equal access to athletic facilities — particularly equitable baseball and softball fields.

So, how can field donations be handled fairly?

Granite proposes a policy on when to say thanks — or no thanks. It recommends prohibiting private donations to hire regular classroom teachers or augment employee salaries. Other donations would be OK if they don't raise Title IX issues, and follow state and district guidelines.

So, a community could hire an early morning foreign language teacher at an elementary school, as has happened, board member Lynn Davidson said. Guidelines could be written to say the class would have to be open to everyone or that no fees would be charged, Bates said.

Schools in wealthier communities conceivably could end up with more amenities than those in lower-income neighborhoods, but that has not necessarily been the case, Bates said.

Cottonwood High, nestled in a more upscale area, has received a slew of donated gym equipment, Bates said. But Kearns High, located in a more modest-income neighborhood, has the nicest baseball diamonds in the district, thanks to a patron's generosity.

Jordan District has a policy on honoring major contributors, according to its Web site. Davis District policy codifies its foundation — a fund-raising arm encouraged by state law — and addresses donor recognition, Bates said.

Nationally, Bates found some districts require all donations to go through the district — which works in a one-town district, he said. Granite has more than 80 schools and covers neighborhoods from Magna to Olympus Cove.

"The larger districts we talked to said (district donation requirements are) a disincentive for donors," Bates said.

Granite's policy will be drafted and discussed at future school board meetings.