• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Schools superintendent denies retaliation claims


THE OWNERS of Office Centre Plus and Ace Hardware claim that after they allowed their businesses to be used to collect signatures for the school tax petition, sales to the Woodford County Board of Education fell off sharply. (Photos by John McGary, above, and Bob Vlach, right).

THE OWNERS of Office Centre Plus and Ace Hardware claim that after they allowed their businesses to be used to collect signatures for the school tax petition, sales to the Woodford County Board of Education fell off sharply. (Photos by John McGary and Bob Vlach).

When asked about allegations that Woodford County Public Schools stopped making purchases at two local businesses that allowed a recall petition committee to use space for getting signatures opposing a proposed school facilities tax, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said, “I know people want me to say that it’s retaliation or that kind of thing…”

But Hawkins would only say that the school district has an obligation to be as efficient with its funds “as we can be and that’s what we’ve tried to do.”

“I’m not going to say that’s our only consideration,” he added. “I will say that’s our consideration.”

Hawkins said the school district has been accused of closing its accounts with Ace Hardware and Office Centre Plus, but “that is absolutely not the case.”

“No accounts have been closed,” said Hawkins. “As a school district, we will always try to find the best prices on anything that we buy.”

He said that has been especially true whenever the district purchases bulk items, but acknowledged “there are times when you’re in the middle of a project and you’ve got to go run and get something, and you look for a … very convenient place to go and pick up a single item. That is something we have done in the past.”

He said that remains the policy for making purchases.

“If there are times when we need to go out and get something, we’ll go out and get something,” said Hawkins. “That’s what we’ve done in the past and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Most items purchased in bulk are often bought under a state contract or through a bidding process, Hawkins said. “But … especially with a smaller store,” he added, “they’re going to be limited on what they have and so it’s going to be more of those single item purchases that you would make anyway.”

Trey Schott, who owns Ace Hardware, acknowledged that his store’s account with the school district has remained open, but said no charges were made by the school district while he allowed a recall petition committee to collect signatures in his store.

“I think there was retaliation,” he said, “and it happened just after we allowed the petition signup in the store.” He said a purchase was made by the school district on Monday, but no purchases were made in the days after a petition committee set up in his store.

“And they’re usually in there once or twice a day,” said Schott. “Their account is usually between $1,200 and $1,500 a month (about 1 or 2 percent of his store’s monthly sales),” which he described as significant.

(The petition drive began in mid-February and continued until a March 5 deadline when it was given to the Woodford County Clerk.)

Hawkins said he does not oversee every decision by the district maintenance department to make a purchase at Ace Hardware, or when shipping services are purchased at Office Centre Plus.

Asked if he has given a directive to not purchase items or services at those two businesses, Hawkins said, “The only directive I’ve given, and I’ve done this since I’ve been here, is to try to make sure that we find the best prices available.”

Because the district’s accounts remain open at both of those businesses, he said, “If any of our folks need to go down there with a (purchase order), they can do that tomorrow…”

“…we’ve never told them not to do that,” he added.

Hawkins said he was unsure if the school district has made a recent purchase at Ace Hardware, but acknowledged that Office Centre Plus was probably used less frequently because UPS and FedEx delivery trucks come to the district office every day and those drivers accept packages to be shipped.

He said he was less certain about how frequently schools use delivery and other services provided by Office Centre Plus.

“In terms of us continuing to utilize local people, we will – not any different than what’s been (done) in the past,” said Hawkins.

Julie Hudson, the owner of Office Centre Plus, acknowledged that the school district has not closed its account with her store, “but they have not done business with me since” she allowed a petition committee to collect signatures there.

“And actually they have not done a lot of shipping with me anyway,” she continued, “so it’s not going to make or break” my business – “losing $30 a month, if that.”

Hudson said she continues to help out teachers (who are friends) when they come into her store to make out-of-pocket purchases, allowing them to buy school supplies at cost.

“I was letting them (the recall petition committee) set up a post … for people, for their right to vote for or against something,” said Hudson. “It was just their right to vote. I wasn’t playing politics or picking sides. It was their right to vote for or against” a proposed school tax hike of 5.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value. She said the elderly people who came into Office Centre Plus and signed the recall petition said they cannot afford to pay an additional tax.

Since the Woodford County Board of Education voted to move forward with a facilities tax, which garnered opposition, (and now will go to voters on June 26 after the recall petition was certified), Hawkins said there have been many attacks directed at him, the school district and its board members, but “they haven’t really been based on facts.”

“At the end of the day,” he added, “this comes down to answering one question. What do we want for our kids?” Hawkins said that will remain the focus as the district moves forward with its campaign asking Woodford County voters to support a facilities tax to pay for a new high school. He described negativity as an attempt to take the focus off the question of whether or not students deserve a new high school.

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