We hope the Pojoaque School Board finds its moral compass and corrects the shoddy way in which it populates the Pojoaque Valley Schools Educational Foundation. Currently School Board Vice President Jeff Atencio serves as the Foundation Board’s president.
A look at a school foundation’s purpose clearly shows a conflict of interest. Foundations function as an independent fundraising body, which should spend money directly on improving student education and teacher needs. School boards spend taxpayer money to do the same thing. It would be nice to get a foundation to pay for something and save the district the money to spend somewhere else, wouldn’t it?
While Española’s School Foundation has plenty of problems, mainly stagnation and lack of action, it is not populated by anyone with a hand in running the school. Española’s foundation never considered a school board member or administrator and Española Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez serves only to keep the Foundation informed as to the District’s business. She does not have a vote.
Pojoaque School Board Chairman Mark LeDoux said he doesn’t see a conflict, but his predecessor John Paul Romero did and resigned from Pojoaque’s foundation after he helped form it.
Former Pojoaque superintendent Melville Morgan is an enigma. While he too resigned from the foundation after it was formed, he insisted that he write the checks for the foundation and keep the finances. Again, huge conflict of interest. Fortunately, in its last audit Pojoaque Schools was told to turn the money over to its foundation and the foundation must open its own bank account. That is the way Española’s foundation now functions.
Before we look at how the Pojoaque Foundation spends, let’s look at how it’s populated. The superintendent gives names in December to the school Board for its approval, as per 5.2.5 of the Foundation’s bylaws. The Foundation Board should choose its own members and the school Board should have no authority to approve nor disapprove those choices. The express purpose of forming a foundation is to keep it separate from the Board and its politics.
Contrary to 5.2.5 of the Foundation’s bylaws, 5.2.3 states the Foundation Board has the power to fill vacancies on its Board.
The bylaws also state a School Board member may be an ex officio (non-voting) member but may not be a director, nor hold an executive position on the Foundation Board. School Board Vice President Jeff Atencio is the president of the Foundation Board.
Regarding the Foundation’s spending we’d like to know who’s idea it was to give someone $500 because their house burned down. Yes, it’s sad and may have helped a child’s education, but the donation clearly does not fall under the Foundation’s focus: “...support and enhance the management and delivery of pre-primary through secondary educational programs, advance and supplement educational opportunities for eligible high school graduates of the Pojoaque Valley Public School District,...”
We would argue the Española Foundation’s donation of tennis rackets also doesn’t fall under its bylaws, nor under what the Board agreed its mission was.
The Pojoaque Foundation also gave money to the student newspaper. Admitting our bias up front, that sounds like a good use of foundation money. Many students (we hope) are participating in an activity in which they will learn something.
Española’s foundation has given for similar things, namely equipment for the culinary class, things that will aid many students over time.
Pojoaque Schools Foundation has about $25,000 in its bank account. We assume that came from Los Alamos National Laboratory or the Department of Energy. The Lab kick-started Española’s foundation in 2015 with the same amount, with the caveat the money be spent on marketing and setting up the business side of the foundation. The money still hasn’t been spent.
School administrators must drool looking at that kind of money sitting in a bank account when they have a steady flow of teacher, parent, student and administrator requests for everything from a blender for the culinary class to chess sets for the chess club and uniforms for many groups.
The Foundation’s job is fairly simple and straightforward. Yes, it’s tempting to address a problem outside the scope of use but it is the Foundation board’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen and make the tough decisions. It has already failed in that regard.
The Pojoaque Foundation must cut all ties to the school Board and run its own show. We suggest the Foundation Board vote to change its bylaws to exclude the School Board’s meddling, including cherry picking Foundation board members. These Foundations have sprung from school boards not doing their jobs. What makes them think they’ll do better with a foundation?