Alexandria’s School Board pressed the superintendent of ACPS for answers on the creation and operation of a grants foundation, asking whether its current ties to the public school system were appropriate and transparent.
Morton Sherman, superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools, told board members at a public meeting last week that the new foundation’s aim was to “support the dreams of teachers – be able to give them voice, give them reality.”
He referred to the Dream Fund set up several years ago, which has been overloaded with requests from teachers wishing to embark on special projects.
This year, the Dream Fund to fulfill teachers’ wishes has about $57,000 in the budget “but we had 74 requests…totaling $234,000,” he said. Twenty-four of those 74 teachers had their projects approved last week.
He said the new foundation sought to open new avenues of funds for ACPS.
The new nonprofit Alexandria City Public Schools Education Foundation, a 501(c3), lists former School Board Chairman Sheryl Gorsuch, Deputy Superintendent Madye Henson and Sherman as directors.
Although Sherman said he would prefer to defer questions about the new body to a foundation spokesperson, board Chairman Karen Graf said because he is listed as a director, he should be qualified to answer questions from the board.
Several board members questioned why, if this foundation did not require board approval for its creation, does it use the ACPS name and keep an ACPS mailing address and contact phone number.
“If you’re going to use the ACPS name, you better have permission,” Pat Hennig said, adding that she wanted the superintendent to provide the value of public funds used for printing a four-color brochure promoting the foundation. She questioned whether ACPS staff aided in the creation of the brochure.
Graf asked if there were public funds and human resources being used to support the foundation, to which Sherman replied he’d like to put together a report with answers to the board’s questions for its Jan. 24 meeting.
Vice Chairman Justin Keating asked Sherman how he envisions the relationship of the foundation and the school district and whether it would be similar to the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria. The SFA offers scholarships to college-bound T.C. Williams seniors. ACPS provides some staff support for that program.
Sherman said he would like to create a Memorandum of Understanding and encourage the SFA, ACPS and the foundation’s board of directors to work together to create documents and see a “clear relationship.” He said the new foundation was not designed to compete with the well-established SFA.
He added that the SFA does a “remarkable” job reaching out to individuals but the foundation would look at ripe opportunities for grants. Sherman added that the new foundation's board would be ready to do outreach to the community and elsewhere within about six to nine months.
Christopher Lewis said he had reviewed the foundation’s bylaws and expressed concern that ACPS staff could be “forced” to work for the foundation, to which Sherman replied there would be no “overlapping of staff time.”
But, Sherman added, a foundation committee is reviewing the bylaws.
Audience member Sean McInerney went to the podium and said he is working with former School Board member Eileen Rivera on revising the bylaws.
“The board doesn’t necessarily have a philosophical issue with the idea of an educational foundation,” said Chairman Graf. However, she said concerns linger whether it could negatively impact the SFA. Additionally, she said questions remain over the formation of the foundation and the related tax and legal implications for ACPS.
The board requested tax documentation related to the ACPS Educational Foundation's organization and tax status.