The Riverside Brookfield High School District 208 school board appears poised to impose new reporting and disclosure requirements on outside groups that raise money for the school.
Last month the school board wrangled for about 30 minutes over a proposal to require groups such as the Booster Club, the Riverside Brookfield High School Educational Foundation and the Patron’s Council (now the RBHS Parent Teacher Organization) to, among other things, maintain a public website that contains financial reports and tax filings.
School board member Mike Welch has been the driving force in seeking more disclosure from the outside support groups. Welch presented a proposal last spring that has since been modified by District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. The modified proposal was the basis for a lively discussion at the July 10 District 208 school board meeting.
In April representatives of the three groups appeared before the school board and said that they were willing to work with the board on the issue. Welch said at the July 10 meeting that he’s been disappointed in what’s been done since then.
“We heard from the organizations that a lot is going to change, you’re going to see a lot of this stuff out there,” Welch said. “I thought when we got this far down the road the organizations would do something, but maybe they’re going to wait until they’re required to do something.”
Welch seems to have the support of four other members of the school board in his push for more disclosure, including the online posting of the organizations’ check register, the purchase of insurance and an agreement by outside groups to adhere to all board policies and administrative procedures.
But board members Laura Hruska and Tim Walsh are not on board. They argued that a lot of mandates will just make it harder for these groups to support the school and could drive away parental volunteers who just don’t want to deal with all the administrative requirements that Welch is demanding.
“I feel that our [proposed] policy is a personal agenda,” said Hruska, a past member of the Patron’s Council and the Booster Club. “It’s not state policy; it’s not school code policy … so I have a problem asking parents who do nothing but good, who’ve given all this money to the school to do all these extra things.”
“I’ve checked all over the place,” Walsh said. “Nobody has these kinds of requirements on volunteer organizations that try to raise money to do good for the school, and we don’t think we should make it more difficult for these volunteer organizations to do good aside from the fact that some people have some issues with some historical things that went on.”
In 2006, the Booster Club contributed $15,800 to a citizens committee supporting a bond referendum for the renovation and expansion of RBHS, a contribution that some have said was inappropriate.
Some have also complained that the RB Educational Foundation on its annual state disclosure forms was listed as a 501(c)(4) for three years, instead of a 501(c)(3). The former organizations are not tax exempt and may engage in political activity and lobbying.
The group has since rectified the mistake, said JoAnne Kosey, president of the foundation.
“That was an error that the accountant made the last three years,” said Kosey. “We have switched accountants, because we feel that that was too grave an error for them to have made. Whether it was a typo or what, the mistake was made.”
Walsh said that it is not the school’s job to oversee outside groups that support the school.
“We should not manage, in my mind, a private corporation that does good,” Walsh said. “The IRS manages 501(c)(3)s, the attorney general manages not-for-profits. If they’re not doing the right thing, that’s who’s supposed to manage them.”
But Welch and board member John Keen argued that strict disclosure requirements are necessary to restore trust in the school in the wake of last year’s overwhelming referendum defeat.
“We’ve totally lost public trust,” Keen said. “This might be going a little too far, but I think we need to go a little too far, or err on the side of going too far, if we’re going to regain that trust.”
Welch said that disclosure will breed trust.
“The more you put out there, the more you disclose, the less questions you get,” Welch said.
Kosey said that the foundation is updating its website and will post more information. The foundation recently included a list of its entire board of trustees on its web site.
“We are in the process of updating our web site, but if there is anything that anybody wants to know they can contact any of us,” said Kosey, who also writes a weekly column for the Landmark. “We will probably post our monthly financial statement.”
Kosey said the foundation is waiting for the school board to act.
“A lot of these things we are waiting for the board to make their decision on policy so we can do policy,” Kosey said. “We don’t want to do things twice. Some of the things are so vague that, until we get clear direction from Kevin Skinkis, we’re just going to proceed with what we think they want.”
Kosey said the foundation is not hiding anything.
“Anything anyone wants to know, all they have to do is ask,” Kosey said. “We have no secrets.”
Kosey wondered why this push for more disclosure is coming now.
“The foundation has been in existence since 1987 and has never been questioned by anybody,” Kosey said. “Why all of a sudden are there questions? Do you feel that we’ve done something wrong? Do you think there’s a possibility having done something wrong? Then ask that question. We don’t want our hands to be so tied that we can’t function to do what we’re set up to do and that’s to provide these opportunities for the school.”
Cathy Louthen, the president of the RBHS PTO said that she is all for disclosure, but is concerned that the PTO might be required forced to maintain a separate website apart from the school website.
“We do have a place on RB’s web site,” Louthen said. “As long as it’s their website. I don’t know that we want to create and pay for another website. We don’t want to spend all our money on a whole bunch of other stuff. We want to spend it on the kids. We want to work together for the kids. We just have to be careful not to cost too much, but disclosing where everything goes is probably a good idea for everybody.”
The school board directed Skinkis to meet with leaders of the Booster Club, the foundation, and the PTO over the next month or so to get their input on the draft policy. The board plans to vote on the issue at its September meeting.