Editorial: School board members must learn from past mistakes


A few weeks ago we congratulated the school board for prodding Superintendent Morton Sherman for details about the Alexandria City Public Schools Education Foundation — a nonprofit created in 2011. Now we’re worried they’re repeating the previous board’s mistakes.

True, the questioning was feistier than regular school board viewers have come to expect, but with the public clamoring for answers, the tone was appropriate.
A quick recap for the uninitiated: Sherman, Deputy Superintendent Madye Henson and former school board chairwoman Sheryl Gorsuch formed the foundation to support unfunded educational projects across the district. It’s a worthy goal unfortunately marred by procedural mistakes.

Many of the new members publicly worried the foundation — an independent organization outside of the board’s oversight despite its name — may have inappropriately drawn on ACPS staff, workspace and resources.

These are very valid concerns, and the board deserves answers. We looked forward to seeing the details hashed out at last week’s meeting, which is why we were disappointed to hear chairwoman Karen Graf indicate the board’s discussion would occur behind closed doors.

It’s the type of decision that got the board — and district — in trouble in the first place. According to documents that Sherman released last week, the previous board tacitly approved the foundation during a two-day retreat in September 2011. City residents sparsely attend these notoriously long get-togethers, which are usually marked by big-picture discussions of the years ahead.

Furthermore, the agenda for the retreat makes no mention of an educational foundation. The only reference comes in a September 20, 2011, press release that lists “establishing an education foundation” among the topics discussed during the retreat.

There is no action docket available for this meeting or any minutes. There is no video. The decision to create an educational foundation was made in the dark — in practice if not intentionally.

Graf told the Times that the nature of the information led them to decide to meet with legal experts. They want to “make sure we’re doing the right thing for all the people involved,” she said.

Don’t worry, though — once the board has gone through the documents in private, it will release its findings to the public.

ACPS has a trust gap as wide as its well-known achievement gap after last year’s testing scandal and capital budget imbroglio, just to mention a few recent black eyes. Going through the foundation’s details in public, sooner rather than later, will go a long way to bridging it.



  1. The issue before the board is being addressed in public and the documents being reviewed by the board and legal counsel are available to the public. The closed door session is usual protocol for personnel matters. The foundation is within the oversight of the board as an Alexandria school system building is listed as the foundation’s headquarters, an Alexandria school system phone number is listed as the foundation’s phone contact, an Alexandria school system’s email address is being used by the foundation, the foundation claims to raise money for the Alexandria school system, three current Alexandria school system employees and a former Alexandria school system board chairman are listed as directors of the foundation, and the brochure used by the foundation feature Alexandria school system students and employees (were media waivers obtained?). There are claims that this foundation was supported by the previous board but not a single piece of evidence has been presented to support those claims. The document which the Superintendent presented to the current board and the public which he claims demonstrates previous board support is a copy of the foundation’s bylaws with a cover page referencing the September 2011 school board retreat. The September 17 & 18 2011 school board agenda of the retreat, available to the public, makes no mention of the foundation or discussion of any foundations. What is also troubling here is that not a single document associated with this foundaiton which was presented by the Superintendent to the current board was signed. No signed copies of tax forms, no signed MOU between the foundation and acps, no signed letter of support by the previous board. The foundation was incorporated in November 2011 and when pressed for documentation over a year later the Superintendent can not produce a single signed document. What does all of this lack of documentation say about how the school system has been operating under the superintendent’s leadership? Getting answers to this question and many others will help the new board bridge any trust gap with the public.

  2. Much ado about nothing. School board chair going after the superintendent for being innovative and creative. Raising funds to help teachers. Her isn’t that what the public wants? The drama is all about power. So many school systems have an endowment like this. Step away politicians and let the educational leaders lead. What personal benefit died Dr Sherman receive? None

    • Robert, the only power play here is Sherman’s and has been since Day 1. The new Board’s responsibility is to stop all the illegal and immoral things that have gone on under Mort & Margaret’s reign, and to regain control of the school system which has suffered terribly. Trust me.

  3. The public seeks accountability and transparency. A foundation formed without public input, without teacher input, without a school board vote of approval is not what the public wants. A foundation unable to produce legally required documents in an appropriate and timely manner is not something the public wants. A foundation with no clear purpose by which to serve our students is not what the public wants. A foundation which may attempt to take away donations from other established, board approved, foundations is not what the public wants. A foundation which is not operating at “arms length” of the school system is not what the public wants. A foundation which has not learned the lessons of proper record keeping from last year’s CIP debacle is not what the public wants. The members of the school board are our elected educational leaders. They were elected to ensure accountability and transparency and they must step in to fill the leadership void which has existed for too long.