By Carla Branch
Alexandrianews.org first uncovered the creation of the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Educational Foundation in early December and most of our questions about this organization remain unanswered.
According to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the foundation became a legal entity on Oct. 25, 2011. The directors listed on the incorporation papers are Morton Sherman, ACPS superintendent; Sheryl Gorsuch, Alexandria School Board Chair; and Madye Henson, one of Sherman’s deputy superintendents. Alexandrianews.org requested information about the foundation from Sherman, Gorsuch and Christine Candio, CEO of Inova Alexandria Hospital, who is referred to in an ACPS Daily Digest article as one of the leaders of the Foundation Board. Sherman responded that the foundation was very new and provided no further information. Neither Gorsuch nor Candio responded at all.
The foundation apparently applied for and was granted 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service on Nov. 8, 2012. That status is retroactive to the organization’s date of incorporation, Oct. 25, 2011. Alexandrianews.org also obtained a copy of a brochure on the foundation, which is being distributed at various events by ACPS staff. The brochure lists an ACPS telephone number, an ACPS address and an ACPS email address and includes various mechanisms through which individuals may contribute to the foundation.
There is no record that the current School Board ever voted to create the foundation nor approved any expenditure of public funds to support the foundation. Neither Sherman nor Gorsuch has provided any information about the foundation’s funding or mission except what is found in the ACPS Educational Foundation.
Sherman first proposed creating an education foundation shortly after he was hired as ACPS superintendent in 2008. School Board members Scott Newsham and Yvonne Folkerts attended a lunch meeting with Sherman and an individual with experience establishing education foundations to support public school systems. In 2008 and 2009, the School Board told Sherman that the time was not right to create a new organization of this type and the matter was not publicly discussed again until the September, 2011 School Board retreat. At that time, Board members apparently expressed some willingness to pursue the idea of an education foundation but no vote was ever taken nor was any public hearing held to bring the idea to the larger school community. The foundation does not appear to be listed as a line item in the fiscal year 2013 ACPS operating budget.
This is not Sherman’s first foray into creating education foundations. According to a 1993 New York court case regarding the Board of Education of the South Orangetown Central School District, he created the Clausland Mountain Education Foundation. The plaintiff in that case accused Sherman of using public funds to create the foundation without lawful authority. The respondents in the case asserted that the foundation's attorney acted pro bono and the district did not pay any of the costs associated with creating the Foundation. The case was dismissed because it was not filed in a timely manner.
The Clausland Mountain Education Foundation obtained 501(c)(3) status from the IRS but that status was revoked for failure to file an annual report for three consecutive years. It does not appear that the foundation ever engaged in any school-related activities after Sherman left the school district.
ACPS supports the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria by providing office space at T. C. Williams High School and paying the salary of SFA’s executive director. That has been the case since SFA was established in 1985 and there is a Memorandum of Understanding between the SFA Board and ACPS and the executive director’s salary is a budget line item in the ACPS operating budget.
The questions remain: how is the foundation funded? If, as the minutes of one foundation Board meeting indicate, ACPS staff time is being donated as an in-kind contribution, when did the Board approve this? What is the foundation’s mission? Is there a need for such an organization? If the School Board never approved the creation of such an organization, can Sherman legally expend public funds (staff time) or solicit donations?