On Tuesday, I received a note from Smoke Rise Charter Elementary School parents in DeKalb about what they deemed an unsavory and unfair effort to convert funds raised for a playground by a parent foundation to another use. I asked DeKalb spokesman Walter Woods about it that morning and just received his reply.
So, here are both the notes.
First, the note from members of the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation:
Last night the Smoke Rise Charter Elementary School Principal and Governance Council called a special meeting and demanded that the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation, a separate fundraising entity, provide them unlimited access to nearly $45,000 in funds previously raised by parents and the community over the last 3 years for the specific purpose of replacing the current dangerous playground equipment. The Principal and Governance Council want to cancel the previously approved playground upgrade project. The administrators are wanting carte blanc use of the money that had been designated for the playground; including to pay an additional salary to a current full-time DeKalb County School System employee whose children attend the school.
In addition, last spring, SREF volunteers applied for and received a renowned KaBOOM!® $15,000 grant to match funds already raised for the playground. After previously approving the playground purchase, the Principal and Council at SRE suggest to just “walk away” from this generous grant.
Nearly every fundraising event that has occurred over the last three years was advertised specifically as going to fund a new playground for the school children and local community. The $45,000 includes funds that were collected via a website established explicitly to collect funds for a new playground and to show issues with the current playground equipment built in 1969 and 1980s.
The mission of the SREF is to continually improve the educational experience at Smoke Rise Charter School by creating sustainable business and community partnerships that provide financial and other resources. SREF was established years before the existence of the SRE Governance Council and without regards to the Council. The Counsel believes SREF is forced to do as it says.
Parents who donated for the expressed cause of building a new playground for their children are outraged that their money appears to have been donated under false pretenses.
Upon reading that note, I asked Walter Woods about the allegations, prefacing my comment with the understanding that the school could not commandeer foundation funds.
Here is what Woods sent me today:
You are correct. Smoke Rise Charter Elementary School understands it has no authority over the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation’s money. They are completely separate. The charter school’s leadership can only make requests to the foundation.
At a meeting on Monday, the school’s Governing Council presented a system for deciding priorities for requests to the foundation. Some of the requests include new technology for computer labs and professional training and materials to help teachers meet new state curriculum standards coming later this year. The school leadership believed on Monday that everyone was in agreement about the recommendation system.
Other priorities have also been discussed, including a playground and funding a school parent liaison. In terms of the playground, Smoke Rise Elementary’s building is scheduled to replaced in the next few years under SPLOST IV, and that would include $150,000 in new playgrounds, fields and equipment. A new playground was not agreed on by everyone to be the priority nor has the playground been the focus of all of the school’s fund raising in recent years.
The parent liaison position is described in the school’s charter, and has been funded over the past two years by a grant that has now expired. An employee at the school has been performing this role and committing the hours in addition to their position at the school. The school leadership asked the foundation to fund $15,000 for the extra-curricular position.
The foundation has paid $5,000 towards this position. Funding such a position is allowed under the school charter. But the school leadership can only make recommendations to the foundation, and we hope that everyone can work together to decide on priorities that are in the best interest of the students at Smoke Rise and the community.
Executive Director of Communications, DeKalb County School System
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog