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School trustees question lack of say on charity changes

Revamped foundation board set to take reins on March 31 

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Some trustees are questioning why they were left out of the loop on changes to the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s charitable foundation, including the appointment of a new board of directors.

East Mountain trustee Laura Peddle said although she agrees with the changes’ intent, she and her colleagues should have been kept abreast of developments since they passed a December 2012 motion authorizing staff to revamp the charity.

Since then, the foundation has hired a full-time fundraiser and worked on recruiting five community volunteers for an arm’s-length board of nine directors that will include one yet-to-be named trustee.

Previously, the charity has had three staff directors and reported directly to trustees.

Peddle said she was surprised to learn the foundation recently held an annual general meeting with no trustees present and is now scheduled to convene the first meeting of the newly reconstituted board on March 31.

The charity has about $1.5 million in assets, a mix of endowments and other funds that are mostly used for annual student bursaries and scholarships.

The foundation is being revamped in part to focus on ensuring students living in poverty have an equal chance to succeed at school, a goal that will see the creation of three new equity funds, one of which will be run in partnership with the Hamilton Community Foundation.

“We’re the parents,” Peddle said during an information session on the changes. “We created it. We said go forth and prosper, go grow, good luck, baby,” she said.

“On that basis there has to be something that comes back to us because the parent can also say, ‘You’re done. I’m cutting you out of the will. It’s not working the way we want.’ ”

West Mountain trustee Wes Hicks also said he expected more involvement in the initial stages of setting up the new board, whose members are expected to make an annual donation to the charity “at an appropriate level.”

“We haven’t had a kick at the cat on membership, numbers, expectations,” he said. “Why one trustee, versus how many people are on the committee?”

Education director John Malloy said staff adhered to the December 2012 motion, which called for a nine-member board — the minimum needed to meet the legal requirements of a not-for-profit corporation — that included one trustee.

He said the outgoing foundation board really only existed to issue tax receipts to donors and held the recent annual general meeting to pass audited financial statements as required by law.

“We actually weren’t a foundation even though we were trying to be,” said Malloy, who sits on both the outgoing and incoming foundation board by virtue of this position.

“We were three employees of the board that were following through on all legal requirements related to tax receipts.”

Judith Bishop, trustee for ward 1 and 2, said the changes are long overdue and will allow the foundation to follow the example of successful ones elsewhere, including at the Toronto District School Board.

“This is a time for celebration,” she said. “Now we’ve got a properly constituted foundation which is going to be independent. It’s going to be capable of doing things which I’ve read about and felt envious of.”

Audited statements for the foundation show it received $395,000 in donations for the year ended Aug. 31, 2013, a drop of $55,000 from the year before. Expenses were also nearly $82,000 more than revenues.

Treasurer Stacey Zucker said all school-generated funds were down due to “a year of turmoil” and that the foundation dipped into its reserves to pay out scholarships, awards and bursaries at previous levels.

She said much of the work since the hiring of a professional fundraiser last July has focused on donor relations, applying for government grants and revamping the foundation, including recruitment of volunteer board members.

“We will have to raise our level of donations,” Zucker said. “Since September we’ve really been working towards the groundwork of building the foundation and the framework for the foundation.”

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