Foundation seeks independence from Balto. County school board; Fund-raising efforts hurt by link, directors say


Not many people know much about the Baltimore County Public Schools Education Foundation -- not even members of the school board.

The group of professionals raises money -- about $200,000 annually -- to support county public schools. Similar foundations have sprouted in cities nationwide, helping schools pay for extras such as art paper and paint, band uniforms and dance outfits.

Despite its relatively low profile in the past, however, Baltimore County's foundation now finds itself somewhat at odds with the school board.

Worried that even the appearance of school board control could be scaring off prospective donors, foundation directors have asked the board to amend the group's charter to make the foundation independent.

"[Donors] are concerned about the potential of control," said John A. Hayden, a school board member who is also president of the foundation's board of directors. "[That concern] has in fact been an impediment."

The school board has the power to appoint foundation directors, something the board has not done since the foundation was created in 1992. The board does not even receive regular reports regarding foundation activities.

"It's amusing that we are accused of controlling something [about which] we have such a low level of understanding," said school board Vice President Phyllis E. Ettinger at a recent board meeting.

The foundation serves as an umbrella for about 20 independent school fund-raising groups, members of which depend on the administrative and legal services of the foundation to file federal tax forms, Hayden said.

Since its formation, the foundation has doled out about $1.4 million to schools to help pay for science fair projects, computers and scholarships, he said.

Money donated to the foundation not earmarked for a specific school is sometimes used to cover urgent requests by school principals, parents or alumni, Hayden said. A few donors have adjusted their wills to provide memorial scholarships.

Recently, potential donors have told foundation directors they are concerned that school board members might help direct money to favorite schools or projects, Hayden said.

"I believe with my heart and soul that it will be more helpful to the school system if that aura of [school board] control is deleted," said Hayden, the only school board member who also serves on the foundation's board of directors.

School board members say they support the foundation but don't know enough about the group, or its recent activities, to change the group's charter. An amendment was defeated by the board at a Sept. 7 meeting.

"I just don't understand what would happen if we go through with this," said board member Michael P. Kennedy. "I need more information."

Hayden, who abstained from the vote, sought to reassure his colleagues that the charter change wouldn't restrict the school board's involvement.

"What was intended by the motion was that there not be this technical tie between the two, but not to break away," Hayden explained. Direction from the school board and staff support from education officials is integral to the foundation's success, he added.

Hayden said he will reintroduce the proposal in a few weeks after board members have had more time to research the foundation.

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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