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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Booster clubs oppose FCPS 'money grab'

The Annandale High School Marching Atoms
Parents active in high school booster clubs are up in arms about a Fairfax County Public Schools rule change that would require funds raised by booster clubs to be incorporated into school activity funds.

Some booster officials are calling this rule change a “money grab” and are concerned that it could become harder to raise money and recruit volunteers if the booster clubs lose control over their funds. Marching band and similar high school programs are heavily dependent on parent support.

“It’s not a “money grab,” and “it’s not a power play with the booster clubs,” FCPS Deputy Superintendent Richard Moniuszko told the Annandale blog.

“An internal audit showed local activity funds are handled in different ways in different schools,” Moniuszko says. “We’re looking to clarify the regulation [5810] so the money is handled appropriately and in accordance with the regulations.” He also said there had been complaints from parents about how booster clubs handle money, but declined to give details.



The new guidelines, expected to be available by the end of the month, will only deal with booster clubs for activities, like band and drama clubs, that are related to the curriculum, he says.

Currently, it is up to the principal’s discretion to allow booster clubs to deposit student participation fees they collect into their own bank accounts and to manage and disburse those funds as they see fit for such things as band trips or band uniforms.

“This has been the practice for many years at most high schools and has worked quite efficiently and without any apparent problems,” Ron R. Hutchinson, treasurer of the McLean High School Band Parents Association, wrote in an email to other booster club leaders.

Under the forthcoming rule change, Hutchinson says, “All of those funds would now be controlled by the FCPS rules governing the School Activity Fund and would be managed and disbursed by the one finance officer at each high school.”

“This new rule change will cause an operational bottleneck and create more work for the already over-worked finance officer at each school.” he says. “There is also a concern that there is no guarantee that the student participation fees collected will actually be spent on the student activities for which they were collected, especially in connection with reserve funds that are carried forward from year to year to pay for large items.”

“It would be a huge waste of money to pay school employees to do what parents have volunteered to do for years,” states an email to booster leaders from Debbie Norton, president of the Band Boosters of Oakton HighSchool. “I'm not sure Dr. Moniuszko appreciates the amount of money that our booster organizations manage or the amount of volunteer hours it takes to do so.”

Norton raised a number of concerns with the rule change: Will parents continue to support booster organizations financially if the clubs have to turn all money over to the school? Will people be as willing to donate if they know the boosters will not have direct control over how the money is spent? Will fewer parents be willing to participate if they think the county is running the show? How difficult will it be for band directors to run their programs if they have to submit a purchase order, and wait for approval, before they can order music for a band festival or marching season? Will the county commit to hiring additional finance office staff to do this now and then discover in the future that they can no longer afford to do so?

28 comments:

  1. Outstanding article. Last month at a Poe Band Concert, a parent made a donation for $500. Not for anything specific but to support the program and whatever needs arise, etc. It was used to buy a new keyboard for the jazz band that had recently broke a week later.

    My point is that would any parent make a donation if it was going to go straight to the schools coffers and used for who knows what and when.

    In addition, why are arts groups being singled out? Are they are planning on implementing this reg. with PTAs also? If not, why not?

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  2. Great, now we can have a school administrator deciding we need three bids on new drumheads, and going with low bid because "sound quality" is subjective and can't be defined in a request for proposal!

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  3. The problem with Booster clubs is that they are under no obligation to release financial information to their members or to the school system. And I can tell you right now there is a group that subscribes to that theory. They could care less about full transparency. And they have been playing games with the families and ignoring school regulations and state laws for years. You have to look very carefully at what you let Boosters do. They are not school employees and they are under no obligation to release information under FOIA. THAT is where the problem lies. This group also thinks state laws on transparency in non-profits don't apply to them and find ways to fight that, which doesn't help the parents.

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    1. You are suffering from ignorance. Booster groups are almost always 501C and are required by law to have open books and annual reports. Those rules are enforced and you have only yourself to blame if you don't know what's going on.

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  4. The Booster group that prompted the changes to the regulations was collecting more money than they needed for school trips presented to the parents on school forms and processed by the Boosters, and instead of returning the money to the parents as required by regulations and state law, the Booster officers felt entitled to keep it and didn't report it to the families. They refused to report it to people who asked. The Booster officers refused to release official documents or evidence of what they did with it. We are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars totally unaccounted for. These weren't $20 field trips. These school trips cost hundreds of dollars each and were processed without any records kept by the school sytem whatsoever, or any indication that the school staff supervised them financially, which is a sensible and enforceable written requirement. Some of these trips cleared several thousand dollars. Talk about lack of control!!!! They even told the parents the trips were intended to break even. Anything but, apparently. School business is school business and needs to be handled as such. This also pointed out other issues, and so the new guidelines were developed.

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    1. Anonymous above raises good points in a specific case. However, I can say with confidence that our booster organization would not have stone-walled and instead responded to parent questions -- they try keep things very transparent. Otherwise, their tax-exempt status would be at risk.

      I am not convinced that having the school system administer this is better. In fact, I would be even more concerned with parents' ability to track how their fees are being spent under such an arrangement. The school system does not have a great track record in disclosing detailed financial data and being responsive to parents.

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    2. The school system is required to release full financial data on the school trips and other money managed by the school under FOIA. All accounting data, receipts, anything that is requested. No questions, no arguments, you produce. School trips on school forms are school business and should not be farmed out to a private group that fights releasing records. Anything on school forms and letterhead is school business and must be made available to the public. Without public funding, a 501c3 is not subject to FOIA in Virginia. A non-profit doing shady stuff like this is very hard to counteract. Any suggestions on how to deal with a group like this? This was the original scenario that started the whole thing with evaluating Boosters. Any prudent government entity does not turn over work with their name on it to an organization doing stuff like this that they can't control. It would be like me pulling in somebody off the street to do my secure job, and then saying it isn't my fault when they do something terrible. You just can't do it. You are liable for what is presented on your forms and what happens if you let somebody unqualified try to do your job.

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    3. This reaction to anecdotal events in a microscopic percentage of 501C group is ridiculous. You punish 99% of the population because 1% fails to live up to it's fiduciary responsibility. And then your solution is to put the responsibility on a system that is, at best, 10 times as inefficient.

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  5. I can see what you mean and how this would work for field trips. However, here's what I'm afraid of -- the school system transitioning fees into something like the Athletic Fee. I pay $100 per season for my child to participate in sports. Yet I have no assurances that the money is actually being spent for programs at my child's school or even for athletics at all. It just goes into the general fund to be spent at the school system's discretion.

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  6. I don't think the money goes into a General Fund for use by other groups. Each organization has separate accounts. There is a provision for Reserve Funds so that there can be carryover from year to year to set money aside for large purchases like uniforms and instruments that take years to save for. I don't think the Administrators micromanage the use. They supervise the account. The teacher can select appropriate equipment and things and discuss purchases with the parents.

    You have every right to FOIA the account you are concerned about and ask to see the records. I did this with a trip and it was very easy. All it takes is an email to the school system, and you have the requested records within a few days. I got a free complete computerized printout of attributed expenses, and for a small fee (which they are allowed to do under FOIA) I was presented with more detailed receipts. You don't even need to give any reasons. It was handled very professionally and the very minor discrepancies were very quickly addressed and very promptly corrected. Totally open communication. I have been fighting with my Band Booster group for almost two years because they refuse to release trip records on school trips they processed that my child went on. The school system's hands are tied because this is a private corporation and they don't have the right to access their financial information, even though the trips were on school forms. Your only recourse with an unscrupulous group like this is for a member to get a court order based on state non-profit transparency laws, which is a huge mess. That can run into thousands of dollars and be quite a scene. This is a really bad way to handle school business. These people thought they were entitled to keep up to 15% over cost on school trips, didn't put out the information to the parents, and pick a fight when asked for details, including bringing in their attorney. All school trips are a breakeven deal by school regulations pulled off of state law, and that doesn't mean using excess trip money for other things for your group is OK. The money is for the trip only. This is made clear to all school personnel. When you are processing $150,000 a year in trips that is a tidy chunk of change to process in the back room and off the record. I don't know what happened with the lack of school supervision on these. And there is no way to correct this other than to put the trips with the school system, which is where they should have been all along. This was the specific situation that prompted the school system to look at their own regulations (and liability situation) as they apply to all school-related fees and things.

    The school system is doing the prudent thing and I think it will all work out in the long run if people just stay calm and discuss this rationally. Everybody will be better off in the long run.

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    1. Too bad the FCPS fees can't be used for instrument purchase. What to do then Barb?

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  7. As long as the account stays with the school, I guess that would be OK -- I just don't trust the school system to leave it at that. I don't want to see a school system-imposed participation fee collected county-wide. That, unfortunately, is what we have with the Athletic Fee.

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  8. I really think if people work with the school teams it is going to be OK. They are very concerned for the well-being of the county residents. We as citizens have the right to accessibility and accountability and we obviously haven't had that with this group. Who knows what is going on with the other groups. The Honor System didn't work, there just isn't any good way to monitor the enforcement of school regulations on a group of people in a private corporation who can pick and choose and argue about the information they release and who aren't your employees, and the school system needs to be able to prove they did their work for us. They can't do it with the current system.

    This can be worked out maturely and politely with as little slinging of mud as possible if people just stay calm and communicate their needs and concerns. It will be a transition, with some bumps in the road and definitely some compromises, but can be a mutually beneficial situation if everybody focuses on the goal of safety and accountability. It is important to show our children that adults can work out difficult situations successfully. I think that about sums it up.

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  9. A couple of things to keep in mind.

    1. Not all boosters organizations are founded the same way; i.e. bonded, incorporated, or even non-profit.

    2. Booster board members are elected. If you do not like the way business is being handled, vote them out.

    3. Don't go on the trip. Spring trips are not a required part of the curriculum. Yes, Symphonic band members must be in the marching band but that is the only major requirement outside of school, along with concerts. Though the spring trip has a concert, it cannot be mandatory.

    4. Organized parents can run a band director out of his/her job. I know of a guy whose band parents were not happy about the bus company he always used for spring trips. They thought there was some financial issues and he was in the job for only about 2 years.

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  10. 1. If the booster organization is not an independent non-profit, it is probably being run throught the school, with the financial information being subject to FOIA, so the issue of hiding financial information in order to cover up financial indiscretions is not such a problem.
    2. Most of the group doesn't know or care whether the school rules or state laws are followed or not. That is a big problem. These were school trips on school forms and that is not their decision to make. They knew they weren't supposed to be doing this and that is why it was a great big secret. If they want to offer trips that don't have terms connected with them then they need to quit using school forms and sell their own trips. Then it doesn't matter. It's a moot point because school trips are no longer going to be processed by Boosters in this county as I understand it because of what this group did.
    3. You and your child shouldn't have to choose between having a group rip you off and lie to you about a school trip and going on the trip with their friends. This is utterly ridiculous.
    4. I really don't care about the teacher issues that is the school system's problem. If they didn't like the bus company they should have taken it up with the principal who signed for the trip and assumes the responsibility for the safety of the students.

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  11. When you turn money over to a non-profit you do not have any assurances it is going where you think it is, either. They could use it to finance a trip to Europe and just show you fake documents. We were shown fabricated and/or incomplete records to cover up what they were doing. Two reports and a statement from the officers conflicted with their tax return by thousands of dollars and they refuse to show supporting documents. So if you think you don't have problems with keeping it in a Booster club, think again.

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  12. As a Band Booster treasurer. I hand out our financial statement at every Booster meeting. I gladly give out copies of our tax return and financials to any member, who asks for it.

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  13. That is great. I wish our group did. A non-profit has to release their tax return to anybody who asks or you can face a $10,000 IRS fine. They have refused to release Profit and Loss statements to me repeatedly. That is how I found out about the trip surpluses. I found some. There they were. The officers admitted to it.

    They took out our transparency clause in our Bylaws after I tested it three years ago. Said it was too cumbersome. I am not kidding you. That is a direct quote. They made it disappear without any major announcement when we did a major Bylaws amendment back then. Everybody just wanted to get on with the concert or whatever and just voted to get it over with. Nobody listened to me and they just blindly trusted these officers to do the right thing.

    These people have a problem. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.

    Anybody reading this must listen to me. You can't FOIA a 501c3 in Virginia that does not have enough public funding. Delegating what is technically school-related business to a non-profit is not any way for a public body to do business. FOIA is FOIA and it is mandatory for the school system. You all need to quit arguing with the school system right now and start working with them. They do not have any choice and you are wasting precious time and oxygen by trying to fight this. They are trying to protect our rights, NOT take them away from us. Saying your group will cooperate and release records does not cover the FOIA requirements for the school system. My group finally said they would be transparent on a trip and then turned around and refused to release detailed accounting data. Only the basic income and expense numbers, which means nothing.

    I am blogging on this for very serious, very specific reasons. You must notify anybody you know to start cooperating with the school officials immediately.

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  14. Who are these idiots?
    Why are they still in business?
    can't the school system help out with this?

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    1. Three very good questions!

      I am not naming any names. It isn't a great big secret, but these people somehow think I am trying to defame their character and try to scare, threaten, and intimidate me with that. The way I look at it, if a group is taking money from parents and children, refusing to tell them everything they do with it, process $150,000+ off the record every year and become very evasive and defensive about any pertinent detailed questions on that and other issues that for some reason don't show up on our reports, and deliberately pull their transparency clause out of their Bylaws, it is open season. I will let somebody else ID this group.

      I am not going to address the last two questions for various reasons.

      Thank you all for your interest in this very important topic that affects so many groups in the county. The school system is making a very wise decision to implement some major changes.

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    2. Do you realize that you are wasting a lot of peoples' time with this stuff? Maybe they could be actually TEACHING instead of all this. And, despite what you say, you're talking about a VERY SMALL amount of money!!!!

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  15. didnt some of this come up on your audits or reviews?

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    1. Rumor has it they weren't done (two former officers). They have just recently incorporated reviews into the yearly plan. The clause in our Bylaws calling for a professional outside audit every few years was DELETED. Yes, made to disappear. "Too much work and too much money."

      I don't know that the trip issue would have necessarily been picked up, anyway. Somebody would have had to match it up to school regulations. Don't know that even a professional accountant would have gone that far. Even if they had asked about any surplus, the officers would have made the call on it. And they were in on the whole thing. It was their idea. The reviews are done by whoever has the time and dedication, and by nature are supportive of the general regime.

      The school has a professional outside audit every summer, and records are retained for five years following the audit as per state law. Plus, you have the added checks of administrators, professional finance people, and the public accessibility under FOIA (which I used and corrected a very small error) to add layers of safety and cross-checks into the system. Sounds good to me.

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  16. It turned out that this group skimmed over $35,000 off of trips over about 4 1/2 years. Talk about a "money grab"...

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  17. There is more. The teacher let them do a payment spreadsheet to keep track of the checks collected from the parents (made out to the school) for an $818 trip this year and they created a fraudulent spreadsheet with inflated and fake payments showing several families paid in full, when they really still owed up to $500.

    There were also some families who owed a bunch, it was clear on the parent list, and nobody collected from them. The school system had to do a very time-consuming and expensive audit to straighten all this out. There were also several families who overpaid by up to $200+ that for some reason nobody followed up on until they went into the audit. Nobody responsible evaluated the spreadsheet until long after the trip.

    Obviously this was all a really bad idea and the processes are being evaluated. What is even better is the very group who did all this is quoted in this article. The records on this are very accessible via the school system. Thank goodness somebody caught this and that the school system has the responsibility to fix this situation. If it was left up to this group, I can only imagine what would have happened.

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  18. Yet another update. In a 2001 opinion of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council just because the public body is not in physical possession of public documents does not relieve them of their FOIA obligations, if the information is something they are required to maintain. They are considered the custodian of these public records and are expected to meet their FOIA obligations. The definition of a public record is anything produced in connection with a public transaction. Fees for public school trips presented on school forms, and fees paid for public school classes, certainly meet that definition. Anything sponsored by the school is supposed to be receipted into the Student Activity Funds. Now, obviously obtaining those records from an uncooperative third party is always easier said than done. The procedure is outlined in the Virginia Public Records Act. It isn't pleasant.

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  19. Anonymous is a troll. She lives in Oakton and has problems with their band director.

    Your concerns are completely irrelevant in the Annandale Community and you should be posting them in your neighborhood blogs.

    The AHS pyramid is a Title 1 area with between 50-75% of the student body receiving free and reduced lunch, depending on the school.

    Music trips in Annandale are always subsidized for all students. It is not uncommon for a trip to be canceled due to not enough student involvement even with the booster organizations paying for portions of every child.

    So, please leave your hate out of Annandale. We are not interested in your agenda.

    Band Parents of Annandale

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  20. So what if all booster board members from every school refused to sign the MOA?? I personally will not be signing it. I would rather resign and take my children out of the program. I think it would make an awesome college essay for them. We all know who the "troll" is and why she's doing this.. If FCPS can't control one "troll", and support the boosters that support them, what's gonna happen when other trolls come out of the woodwork?? What else will the boosters have to do just to support our children's education!

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