By: Melanie Williamson
In January 2014, the school board voted to change the district fundraising policy, making all groups submit an application to the board for approval prior to conducting their fundraisers. However, this has been followed inconsistently with many fundraisers not showing up on the school board agenda until after they have already happened. Additionally, all fundraisers submitted are voted for approval with no information further than the group name, the name of the fundraiser, and the date of the fundraiser, which raises questions regarding the purpose or effectiveness of the policy.
Superintendent Phil Pempin brought the issue of the fundraisers not being submitted on time to the board stating that they are looking at how to streamline the process while still monitoring the number of fundraisers going on and easing the burden on businesses. Board president Shelly Innes reminded the board that the reason they changed the board policy regarding fundraiser approval was because local businesses complained about being constantly approached by school groups seeking donations.
Pempin stated that treasurer Suzanne Wilson and Cindy Akers had some ideas they wanted to present to the board to simplify things. Akers started by stating that the changes made to the fundraiser policy have been more negative than positive. She went on to explain that there is regular turnover in group leaders and coaches from one school year to the next and when a new person comes in, they have a lot on their plate. While they may understand fundraising is part of the position, they may not fully understand the fundraising policy or learn the proper procedure causing applications to be late.
Akers then addressed the reason stated for the 2014 policy change by saying that vendors need to realize they don’t have to donate. “No one keeps score. Don’t donate if you don’t want to.” She went on to say that school groups are happy and grateful for whatever donations they get, and no one is keeping track of who doesn’t donate.
Her third point to the board was that to keep a master list or calendar of every fundraiser going on in the schools is burdensome and “who really looks at it?” In place of the current policy procedure, she recommended only the use of an audit document that the school groups are already filling out at the start of each school year.
Ackers insisted that this audit document was sufficient and appropriate if one of the groups ever to get audited. She furthered her point by saying to have them fill out an application for each fundraiser as they have under the current policy is extra work and pointless; pointing out the board never turns them down.
Board member Habermehl asked Akers to describe the document she is referring to. She explained that each group has one form for the entire school year that describes the purpose of the group, what fundraisers they are planning to do, and what their overall budget is. This ensures the fundraisers are in line with the purpose of the group. Then they have a form they must fill out for each fundraiser that includes the purpose and budget of the fundraiser. When the fundraiser is completed, the back of the form has to be filled out with total revenue and expenses. Akers also stated that they’ve had this form and used it for years.
Habermehl stated that one of the reason they changed the policy was because they had fundraisers happening that the board didn’t know about and money being spent with no record. “To me, this didn’t work or wasn’t being managed” Habermehl stated. Akers responded that during the time when the policy was changed, there was a lot of turnover in the finance department, which led to it being unmanaged for a period of time. However, she went on to say that treasurer Suzanne Wilson has taken control of the situation and the forms are currently being managed.
Habermehl replied that he was open to just using that form but he still wanted monthly reports for the board on fundraisers, so they know what is going on in the district. He went on to say that he didn’t know these audit forms existed or were used. Board president Shelly Innes agreed with Habermehl.
Board member Michael Stark asked who monitors the number of fundraisers going on. To this, Akers responded that she feels it should be the principals’ jobs to monitor what fundraisers are going on in their respective schools. She provided the example of Peer Leadership stating that “the students do a lot of great things but sometimes go overboard with so many fundraisers.” She stated it makes sense that it should be the principal’s job to govern that and tell the groups when they are doing too much.
Another issue brought out during this discussion was fundraisers organized by booster clubs, which are not part of the district. The money they raise is not filtered through the district, but rather handled and spent at the discretion of the booster club. Board member Nancy Oates brought up the fact that even if they are not part of the district directly, what they do reflects on the district. With that in mind, she wanted to know who tells the booster clubs what the rules are as leadership changes within those groups. Treasurer Wilson responded that she speaks with them “every chance I get.”
Board member Oates stated that it wouldn’t be difficult to create a document to give new leaders and coaches explaining the rules and process for fundraisers. Akers agreed stating they could create a one-page sheet that would be distributed to all coaches and group leaders at the start of each school year.
Pempin reiterated that it is important for businesses to feel okay saying no. Akers responded that this could be handled by making all groups add the sentence “participation is completely voluntary” to the bottom of all donation letters they send out.
Board member Sarah Stepp, who is also a Vermilion business owner, stated that as business owners they made the decision to not donate to groups outside of Vermilion. She went on to say they are constantly approached by outside groups for donations, but they just tell them they do not donate outside of Vermilion. It is up to each business to decide how much and where they donate. Stepp stated that school groups shouldn’t stop asking for fear of asking too much. Oates shared that she was happy to see more groups finding creative ways to raise funds, opposed to simply asking for donations.
Bringing the discussion back to the question at hand, Habermehl asked what the next step needs to be. Akers responded that they can provide a proposed change to the current policy at the next meeting for the board to review. The board agreed that was a good next step and they would revisit a policy change at the next regular meeting.