The Oregon school board on Tuesday, May 15, will again discuss whether board member Diana Gadus should be paid for her time to attend a leadership conference in Columbus on April 13 and April 14.
“I was told at the board office that the payment to Gadus for attending the seminars is on the draft agenda and will be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting,” said Board member Jeff Ziviski.
The board voted 3-1 against paying Gadus at the last meeting on April 17. Ziviski, board member P.J. Kapfhammer and Board President Dick Gabel voted against paying Gadus, while Carol Molnar was in favor. Gabel said he wanted Treasurer Jane Fruth to provide more details on the costs of the conference and the amount of money Gadus was requesting before the meeting on Tuesday.
Gadus attended the conference with Molnar and Molnar’s husband.
The district paid a total of $1,173 for registration, hotel, meals and transportation costs for Gadus and Molnar, according to Fruth. She said Gadus and the Molnars made the trip on April 12, a day before the conference, in the Molnars’ vehicle and that Mrs. Molnar is to be reimbursed $150 in mileage costs. The district paid for two hotel rooms at the Hilton for two nights for a total of $484, and $41.55 for two meals at The Bonefish Grill on April 12. The district also paid $18 for two desserts at the Cheesecake Factory on April 13. The group checked out on April 14.
The district has a policy of paying board members for their time to attend conferences and seminars, according to Fruth.
“Board members can be paid $60 for three hours or less, and $125 per day for longer meetings/conferences,” she said.
Gadus is requesting to be paid a total of $250 for attending the two day conference.
Gadus told The Press that she went to a conference last year and did not ask to be paid because she did not know about the board’s policy.
“I recently found out about the policy and decided to ask to be paid for my time,” she said.
Gadus is employed part-time as a school counselor at the Franciscan Academy at Lourdes University in Sylvania.
“I know people in the past have not taken payment for their time, but this is a sign of the times,” said Gadus. “School board members have to continually educate themselves about changes in academics, what is going on statewide as far as budgets and have to understand the business of schools. Going to these conferences helps us do that. And the policy is that we can be paid for these conferences,” she added.
Ziviski said he was against paying Gadus for several reasons.
“It would be unprecedented to pay Gadus for her time at the conference, since there has never been a board member who has requested to be paid under similar circumstances,” he said. “The amount she’s asking to be paid is equivalent to what the owner of a $100,000 home would pay for a new levy – between $100-$200 per year. So why should the taxpayer pay for something she voluntarily went to?”
He also raised questions about the district covering some of the expenses of the conference, including meals and hotel rooms. Gadus and Molnar, he said, should not have traveled to Columbus on Friday, April 12, the night before the conference, and billed the district for their meals and hotel rooms.
“We have a policy on reimbursement of expenses. Excessive costs are not considered prudent nor are they accepted for reimbursement. When you are on official school business you are expected to exercise the same care in incurring expenses as if you’re traveling on personal business. That means why did they go down the night before the conference, which was not board approved, making the district pay for a hotel room when they could have gone the next day?”
He also said the board’s policy of approving expenses for members to attend conferences has never been followed.
“None has been board approved or brought before the board for discussion, which is in direct conflict with our policy. We have improper spending for these conferences. Essentially, we have spending going on in the district which is against board policy, thus making these improper expenditures. In the event of an audit, these could be deemed inappropriate and the board member might be asked to reimburse the district,” he said.
When funds are limited, he added, the board has a policy of designating which board members can participate in a specific conference.
“I’m looking out for the fiscal management of the district and making sure the district and board abide by the policies we took an oath to adhere to and follow. These policies aren’t being followed,” said Ziviski.
Fruth said the board annually appropriates $5,000 to cover expenses for professional development.
Ziviski said the board has never set any guidelines of how that money is to be spent.
“In the past, it was used to pay for the board’s annual retreat,” said Ziviski.
His research on how other school districts pay for conferences found that many cover just half the costs while the board member pays the other half, he said.
“I’ve looked at other districts in the state and not many pay for all expenses related to conferences. I’ve seen many where they only pay 50 percent of all costs, meaning the board member has to incur the other half, which I think is fair and reasonable, since we’re using tax payer dollars,” he said.
He plans to propose that the board adopt the same policy in the future.
“The other concern I have is why do we have two board members going to a conference? We are not in the financial situation to blow money. We need to tighten the purse strings. If the board thinks there’s a conference that can benefit the district, it’s a duplication of efforts and waste of tax money to send more than one.”
Kapfhammer also raised questions about expenses, including the district paying for two hotel rooms instead of one room for just Mrs. Molnar and Gadus.
“Why was her husband with her if she’s traveling with Gadus anyway?” asked Kapfhammer. “They should have shared a room, like the teachers are required to do.”
Dave Shafer, president of the Oregon City Federation of Teachers, said sharing hotel rooms at conferences is in the teachers’ contracts.
“In some cases, you may not be able to buddy up, but mostly, teachers share rooms,” said Shafer.
Gabel said he didn’t have a problem with the district paying for two separate hotel rooms.
“The district was paying for Mrs. Molnar’s room, anyway, so it’s not an issue that her husband was with her,” said Gabel.
He also said the district should pay for board members’ expenses to attend conferences.
“The board has always paid for these expenses in the past, why not now?” said Gabel.
Gabel said he attended one conference in the last six years he’s been on the board, and never asked the district to pay for his time.
Mr. Molnar paid for his own expenses during the trip, according to information provided by Fruth.
Mrs. Molnar said she has not asked to be paid for her time at the conference because the district reimburses her for the mileage.
“I take the mileage. I am retired and I have the time for the conferences. It is not like I have to get a babysitter or take time from a job,” she said.
She said her husband attends conferences with her for personal reasons. “But he pays his own way,” she said.