Stay or Go?

At last night’s Board meeting there was a lengthy discussion of what, if anything, the Board should do as a result of the fundraising agreement between CLC and the San Carlos Educational Foundation not working. Neither the District nor the Board is a party to the agreement between the Foundation and the seven school sites (including CLC). But the District and the Board have  a keen interest in seeing the Foundation’s fundraising efforts be strong since it accounts for roughly 8% of the District’s revenue.

Rather than focus on why this situation came about, I’d prefer to just lay out what I know and talk about where we go from here. Two years ago CLC determined that it had to raise a bunch more money, quickly. They achieved this, but it raised hackles in other parts of the District community because it was seen as undermining the “one for all, all for one” fundraising philosophy that had achieved such great success over the last few years. This led to the Foundation and the school sites negotiating a fundraising protocol that was supposed to govern, and limit, site-based fundraising.

Around the same time, the District began negotiating a new agreement with CLC to govern the day-to-day interactions between CLC and the District. One of the Board’s goals in negotiating that agreement was to link CLC’s continued participation in the Foundation to the District agreeing to continue to treat CLC as part of the District. “Treating CLC as part of the District” meant not doing strict accounting on help and support that was provided by the District to CLC, allowing CLC to continue to participate in District-wide and Tierra Linda-based programs (e.g., ROPES and band/orchestra), etc.

Unfortunately, as the year unfolded it became clear the Foundation/site fundraising protocol was not working well for either the Foundation or CLC. For the Foundation, the agreement meant having to play cop, and deal with various actions taken by CLC which were seen as being at odds with the agreement. I’m not asserting those actions really were at odds, by the way — opinions can differ on what the terms of a contract mean — but the simple fact was that there were things happening that the Foundation did not expect and did not want, and it did not want to have to play the heavy. For CLC, its conversion last March to a 501(c)3 organizational model apparently created more significant demands for revenue than had been expected. This made abiding by the protocol more problematic.

CLC and the Foundation have been talking recently about where they go from here. My understanding is that the Foundation would like for CLC to remain in the Foundation, provided it abides by the Foundation’s expectations under the fundraising protocol. CLC would like to consider reducing or ending its involvement with the Foundation, to beef up its site-based fundraising, but is concerned about what the Board’s reaction would be vis a vis the agreement between the District and CLC. Thursday night’s discussion was the first time the Board had a chance to talk about what kind of reaction it would have.

While no decision was made, my takeaway from the discussion is that a majority of the trustees view a CLC departure from the Foundation as a significant negative and a “threshold event” that would cause the District to view itself as consisting only of the six schools it actually operates. CLC would become like St. Charles: a school that operates in San Carlos, but which is not part of the District. There was also a pretty similar reaction to a partial departure by CLC (e.g., being involved only with Spring Fling).

Many good points were made about how the Foundation is such a great success, and the envy of many surrounding communities, because it is so broad-based. Having one of the long-term “members” of the Foundation, CLC, leave the fold would not be a good thing. Personally, I think there would be only a short-term effect — I’m confident the six District-operated schools would carry on without CLC, albeit perhaps on a slightly smaller scale — but nonetheless it would be a negative. On the plus side from CLC’s perspective, not being constrained by the fundraising protocol would allow it to raise more money.

Many good points about unintended consequences were also made. For example, “not being part of the District” immediately raises questions about the behind-the-scenes help and support the District has provided. Would CLC continue to be able to involve its students in Tierra Linda’s band, orchestra and sports programs? I suspect a majority of trustees would take the position that such arrangements ought to be ended. Not out of spite, but because if CLC is not part of the District it’s not appropriate for the District to use scarce resources to assist its program. Alternatively, if continued participation was allowed, I would expect it to have to be paid for by CLC.

A bigger potential consequence would likely involve the classroom space provided CLC by the District. By law, the District is only required to provide CLC (at essentially no charge) space to educate its in-district students. The District is under no obligation to provide CLC, at any price, with space for the roughly 30% of its students who do not live within District boundaries. Given how incredibly short of space the District is, I suspect the Board would not want to continue to provide extra space to CLC.

At this point I suspect there will be a number of interesting discussions at CLC and between CLC and the Foundation. What happens next I don’t know. But I’ll share a sense of what I think ought to happen. It’s predicated on my sense of what CLC’s leadership wants.

I believe the decisions made and actions taken by CLC’s leadership over the last few years clearly demonstrate it wants to “cut loose” from the District. That hasn’t been baldly stated (probably because it would raise eyebrows, at a minimum, among a number of CLC parents), but I don’t see any other reasonable explanation for how the relationship between  CLC and the District has evolved.

To me, that argues for CLC leaving the Foundation. Like my colleagues, I’ll be disappointed to see “the seven District schools” become “the six District schools”. But life goes on. In fact, I believe life would be better, in fairly short order, for both CLC and the District after a departure. That’s because CLC won’t be constrained by the District or the Foundation, and the District and the Foundation won’t be spending inordinate amounts of time dealing with an organization that doesn’t really want to belong to either of them.

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