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State education leaders creating new rule following football finance missteps

Published October 5, 2012 5:12 pm

Education • Discussion follows financial missteps in high school football program.
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Following controversy over the handling of sports finances in some school districts, the state school board began work Friday on a new rule to guide the use of such cash.

The proposed rule would define any money donated by booster clubs or other groups and individuals to schools as public money subject to the same rules as all other public funding.

That means records of how the money is spent would be public, and the money would have to be spent in accordance with state bidding laws. Donors would be allowed to direct their money toward specific schools and programs, but not a specific employee, student, vendor or brand name.

Districts would also have to create their own policies addressing the collection, deposit and review of cash receipts, as well as donations, fundraising and spending.

"We just felt like there was really a need out there to put some statewide policy over these issues to give guidance to our districts, large and small and really kind of help increase understanding of what it means to have public funds," said Debra Roberts, board chair. "When a dollar becomes a public dollar there's a different requirement behind it."

Many districts already have such policies in place and are already supposed to follow such rules as general business practices, but there's some question as to how well those policies are being followed at the school level, said Natalie Grange, internal audit director for the state school board.

Grange said the goal of the proposed rule is not to discourage people from donating but rather to protect schools and their employees from making the types of errors discovered at some schools.

Board member Mark Openshaw said Friday he was pleased to see a new rule being created.

"I think particularly these rules will help provide a structure because I think there's been a lot of offshore accounts and, for lack of a better word, just creative problems solving that maybe people that are well-intentioned may find themselves in a precarious audit situation, and I think we've seen examples of that," Openshaw said.

Openshaw coincidentally had a child playing for the Timpview High football team last year and the previous year when that school became embroiled in controversy. Timpview's coach, Louis Wong, resigned earlier this year following allegations of fiscal irresponsibility and policy violations. The state school board voted in September to suspend Wong's teaching license for 18 months. A state audit on Timpview suggested, among other things, that the state office develop guidelines for fundraising and donations to help school districts develop appropriate policies.

It was just one of a number of situations that preceded the new rule proposal.

Cottonwood High booster Scott Cate also recently said he was ending his association with that school after the Granite District changed its policy to prohibit donors, such as Cate, from coaching. Cate, who estimates he's donated millions to Cottonwood, had worked as an offensive coordinator for the school's football team.

Also, Roberts said as state office auditors traveled around Utah to train school employees on financial handling this year, they realized there's much confusion.

The board likely will officially pass the new rule within the next couple months.


Twitter: @lschencker




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