Brunswick student aid fund may get $400K

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BRUNSWICK — Students could receive more than $400,000 from four scholarship funds managed by the town.

On Feb. 5, the Town Council approved a letter written by Town Attorney Stephen E.F. Langsdorf to Maine Assistant Attorney General Christina Moylan, asking permission for the town to transfer the scholarships to the Brunswick Area Student Aid fund.

In addition to the four scholarships, at the recommendation of the Trust Fund Advisory Committee, the town is seeking to manage five of its other trust funds, one of which totals just under $500,000, under a single state statute, to make managing and distributing the funds easier.

Langsdorf’s letter states the town currently holds and manages funds designated for both public and private purposes.

Two different Maine statutes govern the management and investment of funds held for charitable public purposes. Brunswick is hoping to cut down on ambiguity by managing the public funds under the same law that governs how private purpose funds are managed and invested.

With regard to the four scholarships, a memo from Finance Director Julia Henze to Town Manager John Eldridge said the money has not been used recently because the original donors are no longer available to distribute it.

“During the process of reviewing the funds, it was noted that there are four scholarship funds (which) have been inactive in recent memory,” the memo states. 

Eldridge on Feb. 5 aid the high school guidance department used to facilitate the distribution of the scholarships, but no town employees had taken applications recently.

“We’re asking that we can move these funds to a place where they’ll be used,” he said. 

On Feb. 20, Langsdorf said he had not yet heard back from the AG’s office.

According to Langsdorf’s letter, the Brunswick Area Student Aid Fund, which awards scholarships to eligible high school graduates from Brunswick, Harpswell, Topsham, Bowdoin or Bowdoinham who are pursuing post-secondary education, has agreed to become the trustees of the four funds.

The scholarships include the Solon E. Turner & Lydia Skofield Scholarship, Pearl H. Baker Scholarship, Doris Coyle Bibber Award and the John Bibber Scholarship Fund. 

The oldest of the four scholarships is the Solon E. Turner & Lydia Skofield Scholarship, which was accepted by municipal officers in 1949 at an original total of $20,000. As of Dec. 31, 2017, the fund had increased to nearly $380,000.

According to Langsdorf’s letter, the original terms of the scholarship state it is to be kept invested, and the income is only to be used “to assist worthy graduates or students of the Brunswick High School who need financial assistance” in pursuing their post-secondary education, whether it be at college or a technical or vocational school.

The John Bibber Scholarship Fund was adopted by a resolution of the Town Council in June 2007 after it began in 1989, and totaled just under $30,000 as of last December.

The Pearl H. Baker Scholarship, established in 1981, totals over $5,000, and the Doris Coyle Bibber Award, to be presented to a high school senior “who has demonstrated outstanding ability and excellence” in history courses, contains nearly $2,000.

Brunswick resident Jean Powers spoke about the funds at the Feb. 14 meeting of the Brunswick School Board.

“It’s a total of over $400,000 to the student aid fund; the one that blew my mind is the Skofield one started in 1949,” Powers said. “It’s worth almost $400,000. Apparently none of this has ever been touched, so that will be a big boost to the student aid fund.”

On Feb. 5, Henze said managing all of the trust funds under one statute would allow the Trust Fund Committee to look into the funds annually and determine how much to distribute. 

She also said the flexibility would allow more money from funds like the Nathaniel Davis Recreation Fund, which totals nearly $500,000, to be used for public programs.

Because the terms of the funds specify their yearly income is to be used for distribution, Henze said defining what constitutes “income” in recent years, in the face of legislation changes, has also been complicated.

“Our interpretation of income over the years has been interest in dividends plus expenses, and more and more that isn’t the way it’s being done,” she said. “Over the past five or six years interest and dividends have dwindled, and the value of the funds have grown because of capital gains, but we haven’t had the ability to use those capital gains to distribute.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente