It was chilly in the New College Institute during its board meeting Tuesday, but tempers as board members talked about the New College Foundation were hot.
“The relationship that we are supposed to have with New College Foundation is” nearly nonexistent, said state Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin), the NCI board chair, “strained to say the least.”
He said NCI does not receive funding it requests from the foundation, except for a portion that Appalachian Electric Power had earmarked for a specific program, and no one from the foundation even attends NCI’s board meetings.
This relationship was part of a prolonged discussion as part of the board’s lengthy agenda at the Baldwin Block building. Stanley and others discussed with some frustration how the foundation and NCI had grown apart and what should be done about that.
Deborah Kaufman, executive director of the foundation, said in a telephone interview later in the day that the foundation attends NCI board meetings “when invited,” and the last time the foundation was invited “may have been last year.” But staff members do get together routinely.
She described the foundation’s role as supporting NCI “in terms of its efforts with administrative types of matters, such as providing fiscal support for programs as needed, such as the robotics program.”
The foundation administers scholarships and grants a teacher-of-the-year award.
“We work are working well with them,” Kaufman said. “We stay informed on what is going on within the institute. Foundation staff and NCI staff meet on a monthly basis to share what’s going on and discuss any issues that may arise within the building.”
By the numbers
Board Vice Chair Richard Hall said that he likes researching information and numbers and tries “to understand the New College Foundation,” a 501c3 organization began in 2006 to provide financial and other support to NCI, according the foundation’s website.
The foundation owns the Baldwin Block building, which houses NCI, and NCI pays $383,000 a year in rent. The foundation manages the building, including its computer equipment, servers and other aspects, Hall said.
In 2016, the foundation “was split apart” from NCI, Hall said. Before that, the executive director of NCI also was the executive director of the foundation. Now Leanna Blevins, the executive director of NCI since 2016, sits on the foundation’s board as a non-voting member.
The foundation also was responsible for donations raised before 2016, with assets of close to $2 million.
Hall said the foundation’s yearly income is $383,000 from NCI’s rent, $146,000 from rent paid by the Economic Development Corporation to use the building, $53,000 from renting out the lecture hall for special events and another $44,000 from its endowment for a total of $657,187.
He said two years ago, the foundation spent 111 percent of what it generated in revenue, and last year 98 percent.
He said the foundation paid out $486,000 in salaries for a 2-year period and allocates the staff’s time at 60 percent for programming and 10 percent for fundraising.
Those efforts raised about $30,000 for NCI, he said, $25,000 through scholarships and $5,000 through a regular donation.
The foundation administers 16 scholarships, all but one established before 2016, Hall said, although the foundation’s website lists 15 endowed scholarships.
“If someone gives 10 percent of their time fundraising and they raise no money, why do you let this go on?” Hall said.
Kaufman said that, “excluding the endowments that we have,” the foundation operates under a $320,000 budget, which includes all salaries, its own office expenses (it rents offices above the Harvest Foundation in the old SunTrust building uptown), insurance and professional fees and audit and accounting fees.
She said the foundation has three full-time employees, one part-time employee and some people who work on an as-needed basis for events.
It’s about programs
In regards to Hall’s description of how the staff uses its time, she said, “It sounds like they may be relying on the audit, which is not really something that should be used to determine time allocation.
“It has been the New College Institute’s position that we promote the programs that are existing and not focus specifically on fundraising at this time but to promote the activities” NCI offers.
She mentioned NCI’s robotics program “that is generating funds from the community” and said there has not been “a full campaign in terms of fundraising,” but rather a shared goal by the foundation and NCI “to make the public aware of what’s going on for the institute.”
And, she said, when the foundation board “understands what’s going on,” it “will be receptive with fundraising.”
She said it has been the foundation board’s position that NCI would have to have programs in place “that the community feels they can support or would want.”
When asked for an example of what that might be, Kaufman said, “I think they are definitely moving to that point, and our board will make a decision in terms of fundraising in collaboration with the Institute staff and boards.”
What might prompt that would be “strictly up to both boards. That would be their determination, if we’re at the point where they feel that … a fundraising campaign is something they could support and the community could support,” she said.
And then there is NCI's home, the Baldwin Block building.
“The foundation was made the de facto owner with always the intent that this building eventually would be given to us,” Stanley said.
Hall said he is concerned that as the 5-year-old facility ages, it will begin to require $300,000 to $400,000 worth of maintenance each year, “and they’re not going to have the money” to take care of it.
During the meeting, Stanley asked board member Naomi Hodge-Muse why she had on a winter coat.
“It’s cold,” she said.
“Christina, why didn’t you turn the heat up?” he asked Christina Reed, NCI’s assistant director for finance and operations.
The facility manager is on vacation for the week, Reed replied, and no one else on staff knows how to do it.
Stanley asked if the staff was not allowed to change the heat settings, and NCI staffers nodded that indeed, staff members were not allowed to change the climate control settings. He asked if they had to get permission to use the room for the board meeting, and those staffers replied yes.
The educational world is “not supposed to be working like this,” Stanley said. “Their [the foundation’s] executive director should be in here” for the meeting.
“There are so many unknowns here. I would like permission for some of us to explore these topics more deeply,” he said.
“We still have to go through them [the foundation] for programs. If you keep saying ‘no’ to everything, then what purpose do you serve?” Hall said.
“Where are we legally?” asked board member Treney Tweedy. “This information is not new. We’ve been in this debate [for quite some time]. Has anything legally changed?”
Hall said continued conversation on the topic would have to be made in closed session.
And, after a brief change of topic, the board did go into closed session. But, when members emerged, they announced no action was taken, and the meeting was adjourned.