Danville school board wants results from education foundation

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Multiple Danville Schools officials say they need to see stronger fundraising results from the school district’s education foundation or else they need to re-evaluate funding the executive director position for the foundation.

Danville school board member Lori Finke, left, poses a question during Tuesday’s six-hour board retreat meeting. At right is board member Troy McCowan.(Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

The foundation is currently costing the district more than it brings in, according to Superintendent Tammy McDonald. The district began paying the foundation’s Executive Director Phil Osborne $60,000 annually as a private contractor in March of 2018, and that contract renewed in March 2019 for another year, she said.

“We’re 15 months in (to the current arrangement) and the first 12 months was actually a negative if we look at it from the school district side,” McDonald said during an update on the foundation’s work that was part of a six-hour school board “retreat” at Shaker Village on Tuesday. “So, we’re now three months into the second year and still at a negative. … My suggestion would be to think about a timeline and how long do you go in the negative before there’s a limit, that this is the time that we should now see ourselves in the positive here?

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“… I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the board to continue with something that is putting us in the negative, because to be honest, that sum in that contract could do quite a bit within the school district.”

Osborne’s update for the board included that two of the biggest donations acquired for the district this year have been a grand piano for Gravely Hall and a dental chair for the new in-school dental office planned to open in the coming school year. He said the president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Ben Chandler, will be visiting the Danville School District in August to see the district’s dental office, which could be held up as a model for other districts to copy. It’s possible the district could get some grant funding from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky at the same time.

Osborne said the inaugural Admiral 5K, held on Father’s Day, raised $4,500 less than previously, largely because sponsors who had contributed substantially when it was the Bill Pollom Memorial 5K dropped out once the Pollom family transferred management to the school district.

Osborne also told board members the Danville Schools Education Foundation board is hopefully finalizing plans for a “DHS at 55” initiative, which would celebrate the 55th anniversary of the opening of Danville High School and attempt to generate a lot of new financial support from alumni.

School board member Lori Finke said she would like to see exactly where the Education Foundation stands financially.

“Do you have figures like that?” she asked Osborne. “Like a financial statement, so that we could see what we’re bringing in and what we’re giving out?”

“I can send you a financial statement,” Osborne said. “Top of mind, I can tell you we’ve only given out the stipend to Katie Gash Palmer for the Lydia Ellis Award and the $500 scholarship to Jada Jones.”

Palmer was given the Lydia Ellis Award in May for being an outstanding teacher in arts education; Jones is a new DHS graduate who is expected to attend the University of Louisville.

Finke said she doesn’t want the school district to continue putting money into the foundation if it’s not producing results.

“I’ve seen this in a lot of volunteer organizations when someone gets a paid position, I don’t know if the volunteers are helping as much. I just don’t know whether it’s going above and beyond, toward the path of paying for itself,” Finke said. “And that’s what we were very heavily convinced it was going to be. It was going to be like, ‘We need this initial — get the ground running, and then it will flourish on its own.’ … if it’s not working, then it’s not working and that money could be used for other things.”

Osborne said DSEF has been “very event-driven” and he’s attempting to get the foundation’s board to change its mindset in that regard. Dancing With the Danville Stars had been the foundation’s biggest fundraiser, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars. But that event hasn’t been held since 2017, largely because the schools’ principals were against it, he said.

“It was too much of (the principals’) time away from management of the school building and the way it’s structured it’s basically … they’re taking money out of their right pocket and putting it in their left — money they could raise otherwise through other means,” Osborne said. “It’s just that this was all channeled through Dancing With the Stars so it came through the foundation, and then we gave it all right back to them.”

Osborne said the final year Dancing With the Danville Stars was held, it raised around $7,500, which was used to provide $7,500 in grants to teachers in the Danville Schools. Last year, the foundation awarded $7,500 in grants by reducing its net position by the same amount.

Danville Schools Education Foundation Executive Director Phil Osborne answers questions about the foundation’s fundraising effectiveness Tuesday. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

“I have tried to discuss with the board becoming less focused on events and more focused on larger gifts, sustaining gifts, things the volunteers could help with,” Osborne said. “Because we have a good board and they have a lot of contacts, and to me, their time is better served sitting down with coffee with a potential donor than it is chasing down a $200 sponsorship for a one-night event.”

Osborne said the DHS at 55 initiative will hopefully be a big boost to exactly that kind of personal fundraising and result in many sustaining donations, meaning people who give on a monthly basis.

“Part of it is trying to work with my board to get them to understand that everything does not have to be event-driven,” Osborne said. “… You put a lot of time and effort into an event and oftentimes you get very little return on it.”

Finke suggested Osborne could go back to his board with news that the school board wants to see results because the money it’s spending could be “going directly to the children” instead.

“I was really shaky when we did this … but I went along with it in the fact that it was going to be self-sustaining and it was going to be on its own two feet,” Finke said. “… Hopefully if we say something like that as a board, maybe some of those people — it will get them fired up, get them going.”

Danville Board of Education Chair Steve Becker asked whether Osborne was getting resistance from the foundation board on changing the fundraising model.

“I think several of them are suffering from board fatigue because they have been around for a while,” he said. “And I’m not disparaging anybody because we have a great bunch of people, but last month we had a quorum, the two months before that we did not. It’s hard to conduct business when you don’t have a quorum.”

Osborne said he’s hopeful the foundation’s board meeting on Thursday will result in a solid strategy for DHS at 55, “because if we don’t start it now, the school year’s going to be behind us.”

But even if that campaign is successful, Osborne wasn’t optimistic the school district would see more revenue than his contract costs anytime soon. He pointed out that the foundation is supposed to be creating an endowment, which would then provide funding to the district annually off of the interest earned from the endowment principal. Even if the endowment reached $300,000 or $500,000, the likely 4% payment that would be available would be less than his contract.

“Is the foundation ever going to be self-sustaining? I would hope so at some point, but I also candidly think you all were oversold on it initially,” Osborne said. “Because I’ve been doing this for a long time with a lot of nonprofits and we started two steps back. We’re just now at the starting line, I think.

“I’m not making excuses, I’m just saying … even if we’re successful with this campaign, it still might not be sufficient for the contract obligation, and I’m fine with that if that’s your decision.”