Danville Express

Newsfront - March 30, 2007

Want to thank teacher? Better stick to apples

Teachers must report receiving gifts worth $50 from one source per year

by Jordan M. Doronila

Trustees ruminated recently over the school district's policy regarding employees accepting gifts.

Superintendent Rob Kessler reviewed and discussed a policy draft, which delineates the rules and limitations of how employees in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District accept gifts, with the trustees at their meeting earlier this month.

"This applies to all district staff," said Kessler at the meeting.

The issue was routine, district spokesman Terry Koehne said later.

Kessler, in a written statement, said the district does not currently have a policy that clearly outlines guidelines for accepting gifts. Legal counsel recommended that the district adopt such a policy.

The superintendent noted that the draft had been reviewed and appropriately revised by members of the his cabinet, classified management and K-12 principals. School staff designed the policy to follow the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

The draft states that the acceptance of cash in any amount for personal use is prohibited. Cash may only be accepted for school or district purposes. Employees and board members cannot accept gifts that cumulatively exceed $390 in a calendar year from a single source, according to the policy.

Gifts must be returned if the cumulative value of the gifts from a single source in a calendar year is greater than $390 or if the conditions or timing under which the gifts are given is questionable.

The FPPC designates certain employees and board members to report gifts received, in the draft policy. Trustees, management, the purchasing department and employees who buy supplies and equipment are subject to reporting.

Employees and trustees who receive gifts that exceed $50 from a single source in one calendar year must be reported on the FPPC Form 700, which is the Statement of Economic Interests.

"I think the guidelines are pretty clear," said Trustee Joan Buchanan.

"I think it's well-written," added Paul Gardner.

However, Trustee Greg Marvel still had concerns about people currying favor by showering employees with gifts.

"I want to be above any appearance of impropriety," Marvel said.

The policy also covers gifts that teachers receive from parents.

Jill McKinnon-Endicott, fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Green Valley Elementary School, said students and their parents give gifts because they appreciate the work that teachers do.

"It isn't to buy me off," she said. "I would never ever entertain a bribe. In 31 years working as teacher, I have never seen that, ever."

"It makes you feel appreciated," she added. "The generosity is amazing. It's overwhelming just how generous they are."

McKinnon-Endicott said the gift giving varies between high and elementary schools. And from time immemorial, teachers have been receiving gifts, such as apples, she said. Some gifts teachers have received include mugs and gift certificates.

"We work so closely (with parents) in elementary school," McKinnon-Endicott said. "Sometimes, it's very uncomfortable. When you try to discourage them, they say, 'It's our way of saying thanks.'"

"They want to show you how much they appreciate your hard work," she added. "It's definitely not required."

At San Ramon Valley High School, drama instructor Chuck Perryman said gift giving is not frequent.

"It's not my experience that I receive these huge monetary gifts," he said. "Maybe in the lower grades. My kids are young adults."

"What the kids give to me is their time and their relationships," he said. "We build an appreciation for each other and ... we are a family. I don't think gifts are really part of that."

He noted that on holidays, he participates in a gift exchange his department conducts. Also, once in a while, he may receive a card.

District legal counsel and its internal auditor drafted the gifts policy. For information about the policy and a complete list of gift reporting requirements, call the district human resources department at 552-2923.

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com

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