For an agency that wants to ramp up its technology, the Pasco School District has a funny way of encouraging educators to use computers and other digital devices. Teachers and district employees are being asked to sign a document parroting signs once common among retailers: You break it, you own it.
Twice, on a one-page form, employees are told they are responsible for, "payment for all repair costs associated with any damage or full replacement cost for loss/theft of the above referenced equipment while it is checked out to me off district property.'' Employees, the form states, "may elect to purchase private loss/damage/theft insurance'' and are responsible for verifying coverage terms and deductible payments.
In other words, pay the premiums out of your own pocket to cover property that isn't yours. What nonsense. It's an unfair financial expectation on employees already absorbing 4 percent salary reductions via pension costs and forced furloughs. Some employees refused to sign and their union filed a grievance.
It is a heavy-handed policy that contradicts the district's desire to push technology that, among other things, has teachers using laptops to take attendance, post grades, write lesson plans and issue report cards. Just last week, the Pasco School Board sat in a workshop and pondered how to increase digital access for students which, in some elementary schools, stands at a ratio of 90 pupils per one computer. Encouraging student use of computers while discouraging the faculty to do likewise is counterproductive.
Certainly, inventory controls for public property are appropriate. And, in one instance, the form, revised this year, ties damage payments only for improper use or negligence, However, it fails to define what can be construed as improper or negligence. Is a teacher working on lesson plans after hours on the hook for replacing a computer damaged by a power surge at home, by a foul ball at a youth baseball game, or by a coffee spill at Starbucks? And why should employees be responsible for a device stolen from an automobile parked in their driveway, but not if it is parked in the faculty lot?
The district is in a penny-pinching mode after eliminating more than 500 jobs, negotiating furloughs and trying to shave other expenses to offset a $60 million budget shortfall attributed mostly to declining state aid and the loss of temporary revenue sources. More cuts are anticipated in 2012. Watching the nickels and dimes is important, however, it shouldn't translate to trying to dump more unanticipated expenses on the employees.