By Melissa Quinn
After publicly grilling Superintendent Morton Sherman for details earlier this month, school board members will go behind closed doors to discuss an educational foundation with ties to the district.
School board chairwoman Karen Graf announced the decision during a public meeting January 24. While Sherman made good on his promise to present the board with information about the independent nonprofit — known as the Alexandria City Public Schools Education Foundation — the documents were delivered just hours before the meeting, Graf said.
With little time to review the information, the board decided to bring in legal counsel and go through the documents at a later date, she said.
“What we found out is that some of the content we were looking at required legal or business advice that we didn’t have the experience to analyze on our own,” Graf said. “We essentially just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for all the people involved.”
Board members first raised concerns about the nonprofit earlier this month. Though formed in November 2011, the school board worries the foundation — which is an entity independent of ACPS — used district dollars and personnel. Tapping into district resources would require board oversight.
Board member Patricia Hennig specifically targeted the foundation’s use of the ACPS name and address on its founding documents filed with the state during a January 10 meeting.
“If you’re going to use the school district’s name, you better have board permission,” she told Sherman then.
Hennig declined to comment for this article.
But the documents Sherman released indicate the foundation received board approval for its use of the district’s name and resources. And while the creation of the foundation was never put to a vote, the documents state Sherman and foundation co-founder Madye Henson — who also is deputy superintendent — chose to move forward with the organization based on the “discussion and sense of the school board at their [September 2011] retreat.”
Documents from the two-day retreat include the foundation’s bylaws and mission statement, but neither meeting minutes nor an action docket are publicly available. While most meetings are filmed and later posted to the district’s website, there is no video of the discussion to create the foundation.
Board members also received all documents pertaining to the foundation’s expenses and revenues. So far, they have been unable to determine if the nonprofit has drawn on ACPS dollars.
While the school board expects to meet with its legal counsel in private sessions, Graf pledged to report their findings to the public.
“We won’t leave anybody in the dark,” she said.
Members also voted to seek advice to ensure paperwork was filed correctly with the state and to define the steps needed to legally create a foundation.
“We don’t know if there is a problem and can’t say it is, but there are some indicators that have led us to seek counsel for advice,” Graf said. “It’s not that we’re evading the answer, we just don’t know.”
Sherman, Henson and former school board chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch formed the foundation with the aim of raising money from the community to pay for special projects for teachers and students.
“In practice, we support the idea of a foundation, but it’s our responsibility as school board members to make sure it was set up properly,” Graf said. “This board is supportive and appreciative of the community members who were recruited to help ACPS achieve their goals and I thank them personally for their interest, and we are working to find a way to go forward with the foundation.”