Insurance company raises liability concerns
By Bert Lehman
After addressing liability concerns, the Clintonville School Board agreed to let a walking program at Clintonville High School continue.
That was the decision at the Oct. 26 school board meeting after the district’s insurance carrier expressed liability concerns.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Jack DeWolf addressed the board. He informed the board that several members of the community have been walking in the high school for the past seven years when the Rec Center is open.
“We believe we’ve been doing this since about 2008 without any incidences, so I feel the risks are pretty minimal, if any,” DeWolf said.
He added that in 2011, while walking in the science wing of the school, he found a burst water pipe, and was able to bring it to the attention of school staff sooner than they probably would have been aware of it otherwise.
“I feel that we can actually enhance security, rather than be a security risk to the school,” he said.
He said he was interested in the insurance carrier’s position on the addition liability associated with walking in the school building, in comparison to walking outside on school grounds.
“I think the whole property probably represents some liability issue, and inside the school its well lit and secure from slipping and what not on ice, it might actually be less of a liability than being outside,” DeWolf said.
DeWolf said he normally walks in the school at 5 a.m., as long as there is someone in the Rec Center to allow him to sign-in.
“We’re happy to do waivers, or any kind of vetting that you feel appropriate to make sure you know who’s in the school,” DeWolf said.
He provided the board with examples of waivers that other school districts use.
Board member Jim Dins asked how many people use the school as a place to walk.
DeWolf said four or five people. He added that all those who use the school as a place to walk sign in at the Rec Center prior to walking.
Currently some citizens walk inside the high school in the morning between 5 and 7:30 a.m., and after school until 7:30 p.m. Walking is not allowed when events are taking place at the high school.
Steve Cerro, senior risk control specialist for Wright Specialty Insurance, the district’s insurance carrier, was also on hand to inform the board about the liability concerns the insurance company had, as well as answer any questions board members had.
Cerro said the concern Wright Specialty had was when people are walking inside the school early in the morning, when there is nobody to watch them.
Since there is an attendant at the Rec Center, Cerro asked why people can’t walk in the Rec Center.
Given permission to speak, DeWolf said in order to do a good walk, distance is needed.
“To walk around in a circle in a confined space, it’s not very satisfactory,” DeWolf said.
Cerro reiterated that unsupervised walking was the main concern of Wright Specialty. He added that it was up to the school board to determine how much risk it wanted to take.
“For us there is less risk if you are being monitor than there is when you’re not,” Cerro said.
DeWolf said the walkers have cell phones.
School Board President Ben Huber asked Cerro what the risk difference is walking inside the building versus outside the building. He said if people walk outside on school property, they are also not monitored and the terrain is more unpredictable.
Cerro said the liability would be about the same. He added that in addition to unsupervised walking being an increase in liability, not having background checks on walking participants also increased the liability for the district.
Cerro recommended the district require those walking in the school to walk in teams of at least two people, carry a Walkie Talkie radio, and sign a waiver each time they walk.
After more discussion on the topic, Huber said the board was not setting a policy for only four people.
“We’re setting a policy for the community,” Huber said.
Board member Dirk Weber asked if the cost of insurance would increase if the district continued to allow residents to walk in the school hallways.
Cerro said the cost wouldn’t increase. He said Wright Specialty wanted the district to be aware of the increased liability of allowing the walking program.
“We’re a very flexible insurance company, by the way,” Cerro said. “We allow a lot of things that other insurance companies do not allow.”
Board member Clyde Tellock asked if the rooms in the school are locked during the time walkers are in the building. He was informed the rooms are locked, except the bathrooms.
After more discussion, Huber said the district should allow walking in the high school building when reasonable.
The board unanimously allow the walking program to continue, but all walkers are required to walk in groups of at least two when there is no staff occupancy in the building during non-student hours, have a Walkie-Talkie radio with them, and sign a waiver prior to each time walking.
The board unanimously approved a total tax levy of $6,174,075 and a tax rate of $10.85 for the 2015-16 school year. At the district’s annual meeting, the projected budget was $6,283,147 with a tax rate of $11.41. Last year the budget was $6,283,431 and a tax rate of $11.41.
“It is a tax decrease on the rate,” said Tom O’Toole, superintendent for the School District of Clintonville. “We think that’s a good thing.”