While multiple programs for district employees were brought up at the Newton school board meeting Monday night, one in particular raised concerns among members of the public.
Newton resident and recreation commission board member Tim Marlar spoke out on the wellness benefit plan that was being addressed at the meeting. Marlar asked the board to table a decision on that item until the legality of the plan, offering to cover part of employees membership costs at the Newton YMCA, was reviewed in line with Kansas Attorney General opinion 2009-3.
"It's my opinion that we possibly could be entering into an agreement that does not follow the intent of that attorney general's opinion," Marlar said. "I believe it would be prudent to slow the process until we get a legal opinion from the attorney general that this is a valid agreement that you could enter into."
Previously, opinion 2009-3 stated that a "city" participating in a joint recreation commission could not enter into any other interlocal agreement for the provision of recreational services with a public or private entity.
School districts — like USD 373 — were not explicitly mentioned and the fact that the opinion regarded recreational services was also pointed out, which Newton Superintendent Deb Hamm noted does not apply in this situation based on the advice of USD 373 attorney John Robb (who happened to be an author on the original question for opinion 2009-3).
"He has assured me that this is a perfectly legal agreement to enter into as it is an employee benefit, not a contract for service for students in the realm of activities," Hamm said.
Marlar preached caution based on concerns about preemptively agreeing to a contract the school district might have to go back on at a cost to taxpayers, but it was noted the city of Newton has already entered such an agreement for a similar benefit plan and USD 373 employees would have a choice — just like city staff — of applying that benefit at either the Newton YMCA or the NRC.
"The same dollar amount ($75) would go to either agency," Hamm said. "We feel like it is a benefit to our employees. This has been approached with the wellness committee and approved by the wellness committee."
Upon the recommendation from district administration to move forward, the school board approved the employee wellness benefit program and becoming a corporate sponsor with the Greater Wichita YMCA.