Source: Sherman Publications

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Turf solicitation upsets some school employees

by CJ Carnacchio

April 20, 2011

All 548 employees of the Oxford school district got a little something extra with their paychecks on April 8, but not everyone was pleased about it.

Included with their wages was a solicitation (see right) from the Oxford Wildcats Athletic Boosters and Oxford Football Club looking for people "to donate $1,000 each" to help pay for the installation of synthetic blue turf at the high school football stadium.

"I suppose it doesn't hurt to ask, but I found this form of solicitation too pushy," wrote school bus driver Kelly McMillen.

The Leader received several e-mails from school district employees who were upset to see this solicitation included with their paycheck. Some of the employees who wrote requested their names be withheld.

The solicitation gives employees who choose to donate $1,000 the convenient option of being able to have it deducted directly from their paychecks "only $33.34 per month over a 30-month time frame."

"I had some employees ask me about (ways to contribute)," said Oxford resident Jim Reis, who's been heading up the turf fund-raising efforts. "I just thought I'll put (the form) in for everybody and if they don't want to do it, they can say no. And if they want to do it, they can say yes."

Reis explained "with the way the economy is," it was believed this "would be a good way to be able to contribute, but over a long period of time."

The turf project goal is $300,000, of which $58,000 has already been raised, according to www.oxfordboosters.com.

Synthetic blue turf will be installed this summer thanks to an undisclosed private investor who agreed to loan the money to the Oxford Turf Committee, a private, nonprofit group.

The Turf Committee plans to continue its fund-raising efforts as it repays the investor over a number of years. The terms of the loan agreement are private and not being disclosed to the public.

Even though the solicitation made it perfectly clear that turf donations are strictly voluntary, not mandatory, some employees felt pressured by it because it came with their paycheck.

"Will there be any retribution to the employees who do not contribute?" wrote one employee.

Some employees believe they've given enough to the district and asking for more is insulting.

"I am appalled at the audacity of Oxford Schools putting a form in with my paycheck asking me to become a member of the 'Synthetic Turf 300 Club,'" wrote a bus driver. "I have already given more than enough to the school system! For the last 15 years, I have not had a raise anywhere close to the cost of living, while the school has continued to increase my co-pays and deductibles, cut overtime and (make) the bus runs longer and more crowded every year."

"This, in my opinion, is asking the employees to pay for the turf field and I believe most of us feel there is no need for it," wrote another bus driver. "The district eliminated the custodial jobs and also took many benefits away from the other employees to save money because we were (suffering) such financial hardship. You now ask us to contribute to this cause when most of us are just barely making ends meet with the cuts we had to take!"

"First the money for turf was a gift, then it became a loan and now, they have the gall to ask me to foot their bill for something I did not want," wrote OES teacher Barbara Johnston. "I have given wage and benefit concessions, and now they want more but it's for the kids, right?"

McMillen felt the solicitation was tacky.

"I could understand it if it was to help a fellow employee who was in severe financial trouble," she wrote. "Making sure everyone in the Oxford Schools family knew someone needed help would excuse these tactics. But for artificial turf? Something that was already voted down by the community twice? Sorry, I found this to be in poor taste . . . I can think of other ways $1,000 could help the students of Oxford Schools. Artificial turf isn't one of them."

These complaints were a surprise to Reis.

"I've had a couple people, I think three now, sign up to do it, but I haven't had any complaints," he said.

Upon hearing about the e-mails sent to the Leader, Reis said, "I'm sorry for that. My intent isn't to upset anybody."

"I'm just surprised nobody could call me. My (phone) number's on everything out there. I don't get it," he noted. "I haven't heard anything negative."

Many of those who sent the Leader e-mails inquired as to whether this solicitation violated district policy, who approved it and if the district paid for it.

The solicitation was approved by Tim Loock, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

It did not violate district policy with regard to the solicitation of funds.

The policy states, "Because the district cannot accommodate every organization that desires to solicit funds for worthy purposes, the (school) board shall not permit any organization not related to the district to solicit funds on district property."

The Athletic Boosters, Football Club and Turf Committee are all groups related to the district.

The solicitation's also in compliance with the district's policy that allows payroll deductions "for contributions to charitable corporations, not-for-profit and community fund organizations."

As far as who paid for the solicitations, Loock indicated it was not the school district.

"The Oxford Football Club paid with check #1096 in the amount of $50 to cover the cost of time and materials," he said.

When asked if the district received any complaints about the solicitations, Loock replied, "Complaints to the central office from employees have been minimal. The primary concern is related to the timing of the insert in a distressed economy."