By Charles Lussier
Advocate staff writer
September 23, 2012
With little discussion, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday unanimously agreed to form a partnership with a newly created nonprofit foundation that plans to help raise money for the parish school system.
The organization, called the new Foundation for East Baton Rouge Parish School System, will join a crowded landscape of nonprofits in Baton Rouge, including ones devoted to education, some quite new.
Perhaps the most prominent is New Schools for Baton Rouge that was formed by leaders of the Baton Rouge Foundation. Its goal is to raise as much as $30 million for low-performing schools in north Baton Rouge that are affiliated with the state-run Recovery School District.
The new foundation has not set a financial target yet.
After Thursday’s meeting, Pat Duhon, coordinator of grants for the school system, said the new foundation, on which she serves as a non-voting member, has raised about $109,000 in startup grants largely from groups connected with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Albemarle. However, she said the foundation plans to do more serious fundraising soon.
Duhon said the new foundation is taking a targeted approach where it will pursue state and national grants for specific purposes such as robotics classes, improved science and technology offerings and early childhood literacy.
The new foundation has been in the making since spring 2011, and the School Board heard a presentation on the idea in October. The board decided to postpone moving forward until the foundation settled on a board of directors.
Duhon said finding board members was complicated by the school system’s extended leadership vacuum that ended in mid-June when Superintendent Bernard Taylor was hired. Duhon said that some potential board members wanted to be sure the new superintendent supported the foundation before signing on.
School Board member David Tatman is the only School Board member serving on the foundation’s board of directors, and like Duhon, as a non-voting member.
Tatman, who has been involved with the developing foundation for months, said gaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS took awhile. It also took time to find good, committed board members, he said.
“We’ve been growing steadily,” Tatman said.
While foundations for public universities are common, public school foundations are much rarer, though individual public schools occasionally create them to try to get donations from alumni. Baton Rouge Magnet High School formed just such a foundation a year ago.
Duhon said that many corporate donors won’t give directly to governments, instead giving only to nonprofit groups.
Tatman acknowledged that there is a lot of fundraising competition, including from groups such as New Schools For Baton Rouge, but said the school system’s new private foundation will focus on a different group of state and national donors initially. Tatman also said having a nonprofit will allow the school system to take advantage of outside grants that it has had to pass up in the past.
The other non-voting school system representatives on the 12-member board of the foundation are Superintendent Taylor and Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system.
Rutledge said the memorandum of understanding formalizes the relationship between the foundation and the school system so that the money it generates will benefit the school system and no other entity.
The memorandum also calls for an annual report to be submitted to the board and superintendent; the money the foundation raises must be spent according to school district rules; and any naming rights offered to donors be approved by the School Board.
The eight voting members of the new foundation’s board of directors:
- Kathryn Kissam, chairwoman of the International Rett Syndrome Foundation
- Neil Buckingham, state government relations manager for Shell Oil.
- Ted Firnberg, co-owner of School Aids
- Linda Gaspard, president of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors
- James Llorens, Southern University chancellor
- Ken A. Miller, manager of engineering services in Baton Rouge for ExxonMobil
- Christie Reeves, executive director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation
- Deborah Sternberg, president of life division at Starmount Life Insurance
Kissam is the president of the board and is also a parent of a student at Glasgow Middle School. Firnberg, Gaspard and Reeves are serving as vice president, secretary and treasurer, respectively.
Duhon said the foundation is still looking for people to serve on the board of directors and can add up to seven more voting members.