After months of debate and discussion, the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 board voted 6 to 1 last week to require that outside support groups affiliated with the school meet a variety of new standards of openness and financial disclosure.
Board member Laura Hruska cast the only vote against the new policy, saying that she thought the new requirements would be burdensome for volunteer groups that only seek to raise money and help the school.
She also said that she feared the new requirements would discourage people from being involved in groups such as the Boosters Club, the Riverside-Brookfield High School Educational Foundation (RBEF) and the Parent Teacher Organization (formerly the Patron’s Council).
“I think we will see decreased participation,” Hruska said.
School board President Matt Sinde disagreed, saying the new policy provided transparency and let people interested in joining or contributing to those groups get additional information.
“I also think it helps the people who are with those groups or want to join those groups to see what those groups are for and what they’re standing for,” Sinde said after the vote.
The new policy requires parent groups and other organizations, which are recognized by the school board and use the school’s name or any school logo or team name, to file with the school a copy of their tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status and a copy of their bylaws.
The bylaws must contain a commitment to maintain a public website that provides a listing of current officers; meeting information such as notices, agendas and minutes; monthly or quarterly financial reports; and a copy of the organization’s annual federal tax return, if required.
The organizations must have written policies regarding public disclosure of organization records and finances, record retention and destruction, officer or governing member conflicts of interest and political activity and contributions.
In a concession to concerns of the PTO, the new policy makes allows the school district’s superintendent to waive the requirement that such groups obtain their own insurance policy.
The policy does not require the groups to undergo regular financial audits or require the groups to provide the school access to their bank accounts. Earlier drafts of the policy proposed by board member Mike Welch included such language.
These changes, together with feedback from the affected organizations persuaded board member Tim Walsh to vote for the new policy.
In previous meetings, and even last week, Walsh had been critical of Welch’s proposals and questioned the need for such requirements.
Walsh said that it is the responsibility of the state and federal government, not the school board, to regulate nonprofit groups. He said the school district’s new policy goes far beyond policies at other schools or the recommendations of the Illinois Association of School Boards.
But saying that the school board had already spent too much time on the issue and that he wanted to move on, Walsh ultimately voted in favor of the new policy.
“I wanted to support the fact that some board members did give up some of the most onerous provisions to try to come up with something a little more balanced,” Walsh said.
Welch declined to comment after the vote.
Tony Garvey, the new president of the RB Booster Club, said that he was fine with the new policy and that the club had already planned to implement much of what the policy requires.
“Upon my review of reading it over I don’t see anything that jumps out at me and says that’s it’s going to be overly burdensome,” Garvey said. “The IRS filings that they’re requiring us to post, we’re required to do that anyway, so posting that and putting it on a website for people to view and just see that we’re in compliance, I don’t have any problem with that.”
The groups have until Dec. 1 to be fully compliant with the requirements of the new policy.
Tony Miezio, the treasurer of the RBEF since earlier this year, said that the group would easily beat that deadline.
“My goal is that we’ll be fully compliant by the end of September,” Miezio said. “I’m anticipating that it will be much sooner than that.”
At an RBEF board meeting the night after the policy was adopted, Miezio questioned the idea that groups like the foundation are happy to comply with all the requirements of the new policy.
Miezio pointed out the added expense of the RBEF having to buy its own insurance policy.
“We’re not embracing it,” Miezio told his fellow board members. “It’s like a bad tasting medicine. We’ll do it, but that’s one less grant we can give.”
Cathy Louthen, the president of the RBHS PTO declined to comment when asked about her feelings about the new policy other than to say her board would have to study the policy.