Partnership dissolves for library/school

Pat Hill
Tom Litherland and Penni Donatto, secretary and president, respectively, of the Franklin Ferguson Library District, have turned down the proposed contract from the RE-1 School District Board and have decided to move the library to another location in Cripple Creek.
Pat Hill
Posted

After 38 years of serving patrons at the Cripple Creek/Victor High School, the Franklin Ferguson Memorial Library is severing relations with the RE-1 School District.

At least that’s the way it was on July 3. Since the city council meeting the night before, the story’s ending is a moving target, with members of both boards drawing a line in the sand.

Tim Braun, the school board’s president, presented to the council a management agreement from 1990 that gives ownership of the library’s inventory as well as control over its location within the high school to the city of Cripple Creek. For Braun, it was a bingo! moment but to the library board the document was outdated, replaced by a contract signed Feb. 26 by Braun and Penni Donatto, the library board’s president. However, that contract ended June 30.

No matter, on July 3 board members, friends and librarian Mike McDonald were packing up the inventory, to be ready to move if negotiations for a new location could be finalized. The library will stay open through the month of July.

In the flurry of the disagreement, McDonald had submitted a letter of resignation to the school board, leaving his position as a teacher/librarian. McDonald planned to stay on with the library district.

In the past, the partnership was sealed with a memorandum of understanding between the two taxing entities. While the MOU was renewed every year, on May 29 the disagreement escalated, even though the issue had been percolating.

According to Tom Litherland, the library board submitted a memorandum of understanding to the school board, as had been done in the past. In the event of termination of the agreement, the document states, all print and non-print materials and equipment shall go to the original owners.

In the meantime, Braun took notice of the school district’s spending up to $150,000 a year to help cover library expenses. He submitted a one-page MOU prepared by the staff to the library board, a response to the MOU submitted by the library.

“It was a starting point to tell us what the library’s expenses to the school were and how much it was costing us,” Braun said. “It wasn’t supposed to say ‘MOU.’”

The document listed specific financial figures for services provided by each entity.

“The minute you start adding numbers to an MOU, it becomes a contract; that’s how society works nowadays,” Litherland said. “It just blew me away.”

With no response from the library board for a month, Braun said he drew up a service contract and presented the document May 29. The contract was not well-received. “They added $2 million for liability insurance — there’s a conflict here — because the school covers all the liability,” Litherland said.

Braun explained. “The library is a public place; we have no control over who comes in and out of there. They have to let perverts or sex offenders in,” he said. “If anything does happen with our kids there, we didn’t want that to fall on our insurance because then our rates would go up. It’s a real security problem. That’s why we asked them to carry their own insurance.”

As well, the contract seeks $1,500 a month from the library for its share of utilities, maintenance and custodial services during the summer when the school is closed, Braun said.

In the past, the school district contributed $426.04 toward McDonald’s salary, funds that were reimbursed to the school by the library. “They wanted to go through us so McDonald could get PERA benefits,” Braun said. “We stopped that. It’s costing the school district almost $100,000 a year for the librarian, which includes all benefits and PERA, on top of all the other expenses.”

However, the library district has always funded the inventory. “We weren’t paying anything but at the same time our money went toward an assistant librarian, books, DVDs, computers and updating computers constantly,” Litherland said.

As the situation looks bleak, despite the 1990 contract, Braun said. “We tried to be very reasonable; we submitted the contract to them because they never came back to respond to the negotiations. Ninety-nine percent of the contract I wrote was submitted to us by them (in the MOU). So what’s the problem?”

Nonetheless, the library district rejected the contract. “It was not pleasant — believe me, we were all depressed as can be,” Litherland said.

Donatto added, “It wasn’t a matter so much of not being able to afford it, we just felt we couldn’t agree to those terms,” she said. “We’ve been the school/library entity for the longest in the state of Colorado.”

The decision to separate was made on the advice of legal counsel, Donatto wrote in a letter to Braun.

School board member Don Daniel doesn’t agree with the contract, voted against it. “When you send a signed contract negotiations are over,” he said. “The partnership was a joint venture that was good for everyone. It’s too bad for the library district.”

As each is a separate taxing entity, Daniel doesn’t think voters would pass an increase in property taxes for the library. “The economy is lousy and nobody is passing tax increases these days,” he said. “Even if we could change the contract, it’s too late to heal the wounds.”