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School Board OKs SCASD Education Foundation Agreement

by on March 13, 2018 11:22 AM

The State College Area School Board on Monday voted to approved a memorandum of understanding to provide no more than $120,000 each of the next three years to support operations of the State College Area School District Education Foundation.

Board members voted 8-1 in favor, with Laurel Zydney voting no.

The foundation was established as a separate charitable organization in 2015 for private fundraising for student experiences and learning opportunities not regularly supported in the annual district budget. It allows businesses to make contributions to the district through Pennsylvania's Earned Income Tax Credit program, which lets businesses earn tax credits in exchange for charitable contributions to approved organizations.

As part of the memorandum, the foundation agrees to raise at least $120,000 with the intent that the amount raised will increase each of the next two years. The expectation is that revenue will surpass operating costs.

To date, the district has provided about $250,000 for operating costs while the foundation has raised about $130,000. Some community members have raised questions about the use of tax dollars and effectiveness of the foundation.

Marion Sheridan, of Ferguson Township, has expressed concerns about the foundation in the past and at Monday night's meeting said she has concerns about its "honesty, transparency and mission."

She said that the board was moving ahead to continue the relationship without a long-term strategic plan or detailed financial accounting from the foundation.

"I wonder if you had invested $250,000 of your own money in your own personal portfolio and had lost about half of that money if you would commit to investing another $360,000 in the same thing. Yet that is what you are preparing to do with taxpayer money tonight," Sheridan said. "I believe it amounts to a egregious mishandling of tax dollars and also of your fiduciary responsibility."

Board president Amber Concepcion noted that the memorandum does not commit the district to allocating $120,000 per year but that the figure is a cap. The past two years, foundation-related expenses have been less than $100,000.

Superintendent Bob O'Donnell said that so far this year the foundation has raised $90,470, compared to $39,474 last year. The foundation also still has its first major fundraiser still to come in May. 

"It is moving in the direction that we expect and had hoped would happen," O'Donnell said. "We’re excited they’ve committed to the development effort on behalf of the school system and the kids."

He added that the foundation provided a method of private fundraising, different from having a full-time development officer, that offers flexibility if it doesn't meet expectations. The last time the district had a full-time development officer, in 2010, it spent about $92,000 on staffing, not including other operating costs.

Sara Bressler, of Ferguson Township, also spoke at the meeting and said she had questions about whether there was a precise accounting of how the foundation's part-time executive director's time is spent, the plan for fundraising, and the foundation's effectiveness compared to Centre Foundation, which manages a number of endowment funds created for the district.

Concepcion said that the district will continue to work with Centre Foundation, but that even if all charitable funds went through Centre Foundation it would not address the need for a development officer for the school district.

Board member Dan Duffy said that they have considered the concerns and that the memorandum of understanding is giving the foundation time to work. If it is ultimately not as productive as hoped, the district has options to end the relationship, he said.

"We’ve been trying to move forward in a deliberate and collaborative way to give it the opportunity to work recognizing there needs to be boundaries, and the MOU provides those boundaries," Duffy said.

Concepcion agreed, saying the MOU provides "a structure for moving forward."

In dissenting, Zydney said she thinks there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis, an understanding of whether fundraising projections are realistic and for the foundation's board members to articulate their ideas for fundraising moving forward.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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