Friday, November 16, 2007

Susan Semonick On Schools - Go To Nov. 20 Foundation Mtg!

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
All those who wish to know where approximately $175,000.00 dollars of school district funds go to annually.

The Annual General meeting for the Langley School District Foundation, run under the directorship of Trustee McVeigh and Trustee Ross, will be held on November 20th at 4:30 pm at the School Board Offices. Come one, come all - see why we have to close schools so that funds can be used in this manner.

Each year, the school district transfers funds generated by the International Students Program to the SDBC in order to support special projects outside of the school district budget to the tune of $175,000. This is revenue, which in my opinion should be going to direct student services and NOT to the fluff that only a few select Foundation directors determine it should be allocated to. This is done without any accountability to taxpayers, not from school trustees nor foundation directors. If the Board feels that these are worthwhile causes, then leave the $175,000 in the school district budget, justify those expenditures, and be answerable to the public for those decisions. What they are doing is removing themselves from their responsibility for this pot of money and allowing themselves some “pet projects” with no need for progress reports, reliable data, etc. to validate the special use of these funds, especially when there are many competing needs in the school district.

Let us be clear – the Langley School District Foundation is supposed to be an at arm’s length organization because it has declared itself to be a public foundation rather than a private foundation. The rules are different for each. A public foundation requires more than 50% of its directorship to be at arm’s length. However, the LSDF does not appear to operate as such. As far as the public can tell, there has been no change in the directorship over the past year in which only three of the six directors are at arm’s length. Just last year, the Foundation changed its bylaws and its structure to increase the number of directors to eight in order to comply with certain charity regulations and yet maintain the Board of Education’s control over the Foundation’s constitution. What has the executive director or other directors done to add to their directorship in order to comply with their own bylaws as well as government regulations? Some might argue that they have been operating without actually complying with the rules.

A paid employee who is remunerated by the school district, and it would appear, whose wage is shown as a donation, is the executive director for the Foundation and is responsible for running the two annual charity events and other activities. There have been no new events since the Wine and Cheese, and Golf Tournament. Without the transfer of school district funds, the Foundation does not even make enough to cover the wages donated - another good example of poor business choices by the trustees. Remember the School District Business Company and how well it has done?

The executive director is apparently in charge of nominations to the Board of the Foundation and it was interesting to find out that the one and only new nominee last year was not even known to the current president at the time of election. So, who is running the show? What about due diligence? The LSDF elections seemed liked they were just a formality, musical chairs in fact, but at least one director felt the need to ask who the new person they would be working with was. They should be asking more questions about the legality of the SDF Board functioning as a public foundation.

The Langley Board of Education, which is ALSO a registered charity, can issue its own charitable receipts and yet has seen fit to funnel through the Foundation much of the donations made to the school district. Charitable receipts for donations that would/could have been issued by the school district are now, as much as possible, being issued by the Foundation. I wonder how many people are aware of the difference. Trustee Burton has said that the Foundation was not supposed to solicit funds from traditional sources that would normally support Parent Advisory Council supporters – small local businesses.

It would seem that not only does the Foundation's image need to look good but so do the books in order to convince potential donors. Why else would private donations make a pit stop in the Foundation accounts, especially when much of the money is targeted by the donors for specific school projects like playgrounds etc., and the district itself can issue the charitable receipt? Perhaps the taxation department will revoke the school district's charitable license since it does not seem to want to use it.

It is interesting that the Foundation’s webpage is actually a part of the school district’s website. It is probably maintained by school district staff as well. I wonder if the printing for the Foundation’s annual report (in colour) was provided at no cost, as well as office supplies, etc. How much in un-itemized costs does the Foundation really cost the students of Langley?

The Board of School Trustees of school District # 35 Langley was already a charity, long before the Foundation was established. Why the extra bureaucracy which does not appear to save us any money. It appears the benefit may be to skirt accountability and use money that could be in the direct student services pot?

Where has all the money gone?

Susan Semonick

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