Revised gift policy patches rift between Cape Elizabeth School Board, education foundation

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The School Board has adopted a revised policy on accepting gifts that brings it into compliance with state law.

The Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation, which expressed concern when the policy was first presented in June, takes no issue with the adopted version, Executive Director Ellen Jordan said.

“As far as CEEF is concerned, it’s business as usual,” Jordan said.

The updated policy, which was approved Nov. 8, allows the superintendent to accept gifts of under $10,000 on the School Board’s behalf. Gifts to the School Department that exceed $10,000 must be approved by the School Board.

“This recognizes all the potential gifts that could be coming to the schools, either as outright gifts or grants,” Barbara Powers, chairwoman of the board’s policy committee, said.

The board planned to revise the policy in June, but the draft was found to be out of compliance with state law. The School Board would not disclose how it was out of compliance.

The proposed revision was a concern for CEEF, because it was seen as a threat to the organization’s independent operation, James Britt, CEEF president at the time, said at that time.

The previous policy, which had been in effect since December 2006, allowed teachers or school staffers to apply for and accept grants after meeting with advisers on the CEEF board.

The revised policy, as it was proposed in June, would have made grants from organizations like CEEF more difficult to acquire by requiring any grant of $5,000 or more to receive prior approval from the School Department business administrator and the superintendent of schools, followed by School Board review.

Additionally, grant proposals would have had to disclose any costs to the School Department for facility maintenance and additional staff, and whether there would be any impact on school buildings.

Grants of less than $5,000 would have required approval from the school principal.

The newly adopted policy requires less review before gifts can be approved. When a gift is under $10,000, the superintendent only must consult the School Board if the gift has a “budgetary or philosophical impact” on the schools.

Potential impacts include operational or maintenance costs, or a change in curriculum or policy.

“It was our sense that anything that would fall into that range of potential impact is something that the board would want to be aware of,” Powers said.

Gifts without a potential impact can be approved independently by the superintendent. Powers said the School Board, however, still wants to be made aware of all gifts.

“We do ask that we be informed of all gifts … so we can acknowledge those generous donors in our community, but in terms of the day-to-day operational piece, we’re happy to designate that out,” Powers said.

Powers added that the School Board appreciates what CEEF does for the district. 

“Certainly we are a huge beneficiary of the efforts of (CEEF) in addition to our parents’ associations, and other potential grants,” she said.

Jordan said CEEF’s relationship with the School Board is “mutually respective” and will continue to be. She said CEEF will continue awarding grants as it always has, but that it will be up to the board and superintendent whether teachers, staff, and students can accept the grants. 

“In order to remain true to our mission, CEEF will need to continue our grant process in the same independent and thoughtful manner as we always have,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.