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Amway has big school network

The Amway network that has prompted an inquiry into Lecanto High School Principal Gary Foltz has ties to other school employees in the county.

In fact, at Crystal River High School several years ago, employees who were involved with Amway were warned not to use school time and teacher mailboxes to distribute literature about their products.

Crystal River High Principal Craig Marlett also had been an Amway salesman.

For a brief time, Marlett said he sold Amway coffee and creamer supplies to the school. Marlett stopped after only two packages of coffee were sold because, even though he said he had received permission and was not profiting from the sales, he didn't feel comfortable about the arrangement.

Marlett said there was a large network of Amway sales people in the school system.

Marlett and other school system employees acknowledge that a number of school workers, including people in the district administration offices, sell Amway products on the side.

Concerns about Foltz's selling beverage items and cleaning equipment to his school along with the extensive network of Amway distributors in the system have prompted school officials to take a hard look at the issue of private dealings of public employees.

The concerns about Foltz and his involvement with Amway were raised to school officials about a week ago and have prompted an investigation by Neal Weiss, executive director of administrative services for the school district.

Weiss has said he can provide few details because the case is open. On Friday he acknowledged the situation has wider implications than whether school money was spent on products.

In multi-level marketing networks such as Amway, people buy into participating in several categories. Those at the bottom rung of the organization can buy Amway products but those above them reap the commissions on those sales.

Weiss said the structure could raise some theoretical questions.

"We certainly have to be careful of any business arrangements between supervisors and staff," Weiss said. "Should employees ever feel pressured, we want to take steps to avoid that."

School policy states that employees can work another job as long as it doesn't interfere with their school system jobs. They cannot use school system supplies or work time for that second job.

Marlett said he finally dropped out of active Amway participation more than a year ago because it took much more of his off time than he wanted. He does maintain his Amway card at a cost of $15 a year to buy Amway products.

He said he remembered a concern raised by a teacher a couple of years ago when she found an advertisement of an Amway party in her mailbox at school. Marlett said that those responsible were cautioned not to use that distribution system again and not to use their school time.

On another occasion, when a parent complained about Crystal River High football coach Earl Bramlett, she said Marlett wouldn't help her because he was in business with Bramlett.

Marlett denied that accusation, but acknowledged that both he and Bramlett had been involved in Amway sales in the past.

The coffee was purchased at Crystal River High School through Amway after Marlett said he checked with the county office on whether it was a conflict.

Marlett earned no profit, or points as Amway calls the credit, from the sale. But he ended the arrangement shortly after that and now his staff rotates coffee purchases.

Weiss said Marlett's decision to end the practice shows that "his sensitivity is commendable."

Foltz said he also had been told that, since he wasn't getting the points from the sale of products to his school, he didn't have to worry about a conflict. Foltz has acknowledged that he also bought coffee from Amway with school money as well as vacuum cleaners and a pressure cleaner, which have been returned because of problems with the machinery.

Weiss said there may have been some confusion about permission that the principals thought had been granted but that, "to the best of my knowledge, no one would have okayed an arrangement other than the usual purchasing procedure."

Weiss said the complications of deciding how to deal with network marketing systems are a new issue to the school district and one officials hope to sort out completely.

"These kinds of personal business opportunities have become quite popular whether they're selling plastic dishware or health products and vitamins," Weiss said. "We have some new challenges that we've become aware of and we'll take whatever steps we need to."