School board members grill superintendent on Education Foundation

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Morton Sherman (File photo)

By Melissa Quinn

Sparks flew at last week’s school board meeting after new member Patricia Hennig pressed Superintendent Morton Sherman for information about the Alexandria City Public Schools Education Foundation.

Hennig questioned the nonprofit’s use of the district’s name — as well as space and personnel — without board oversight. Sherman, former school board chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch and Deputy Superintendent Madye Henson formed the group, which received a 501(c)(3) status in 2011, to raise money for unfunded projects about two years ago.

Henson remains its registered agent while the district’s North Beauregard Street headquarters is listed as its address, according to paperwork filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

“If you’re going to use the school district’s name, you better have board permission,” Hennig told Sherman.

School board chairwoman Karen Graf described — based on her independent research — the foundation as community-driven, able to operate based on resident support and donations as opposed to taxpayer dollars.

But Hennig argued its use of the ACPS name and address suggested ties to the school district. She also worried the foundation drew from taxpayer dollars through use of district staff’s time and city facilities.

“We have no business allowing any of this without it being accounted for,” Hennig told her fellow board members.

Sherman has adamantly supported the creation of an independent foundation since his arrival at ACPS, though its incorporation in 2011 was the first step in his vision.

“Imagine that over the next couple of years … a separate board — away from the funding you might provide through an ACPS budget — would support the dreams of teachers,” Sherman said. “It would be able to give them a voice and reality.”

However, the foundation has yet to provide funding for projects, and board members worry it will compete with the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria.

“There is no intent to compete with the scholarship group – that doesn’t mean you won’t compete with what they’ve done,” said board member Bill Campbell.

Members of the nonprofit’s founding board have discussed potential projects with teachers and students. Sherman believes the group needs six to nine months to “get their feet on the ground.”

Though the foundation remains outside of the school board’s jurisdiction, Graf — at Hennig’s request — asked for more information about the nonprofit, including its tax forms as well as a breakdown of revenues and expenses. Sherman will return to the board with the requested information January 24.

In the future, the two groups hope to define the relationship between ACPS and the foundation.

“I’m very hopeful that … we can get all questions answered,” Campbell, who originally supported the foundation, said. “I would hate to think we’re … going to be held hostage on this for the next six to nine months while folks figure out what to do.”