The Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation sees problems with the School Board’s proposal.
Discussion on a controversial proposal to change the way teachers and staff in Cape Elizabeth schools seek and receive grants has been put off until July, the school department has announced.
The Cape Elizabeth School Board’s policy committee was originally scheduled to meet on Monday, June 6, to discuss changes to Policy KCE – Receiving Education Foundation Grants, but that meeting has now been “postponed until a date to be announced in July,” the board said in an email.
Last week the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation issued a call to arms on social media urging its supporters to contact School Board members to tell them not to change the grant funding policy because it “strips (the foundation) and our community of our independence to support innovation and excellence in Cape Elizabeth schools.”
The Facebook post went on to say, “The question on many minds is what happened to cause the School Board, superintendent and school business manager to make major edits to (the policy).”
In its Facebook post, the foundation also said that its “grant process has been in place since 2001 and it works. Communication issues can be resolved without the drastic changes (being) introduced.”
The Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation has awarded nearly $1.2 million in grants to the local schools since it was founded in 2001. Just this spring nearly $75,000 was awarded to six new teacher- and student-led initiatives.
While the foundation feels its future is threatened by the proposed policy change, board Chairwoman Elizabeth Scifres said the group is overreacting.
Currently any teacher or staff member can apply for a grant after meeting with the teacher-advisers on the education foundation board.
The amendment being proposed would require any grant of $5,000 or more to get prior approval from the school department’s business manager, as well as the superintendent of schools. In addition, the School Board would also have to sign off.
The amendment to the grant policy would also require that proposals for grant funding disclose any additional costs to the school department for facility use or additional staff.
In an email sent out to education foundation members and donors early last week, the group’s president, James T. Britt, said the proposed changes to the grant policy “threatens innovation in our schools (and) if we are not careful, CEEF as we know it will come to an end.”
By the middle of last week, Britt had backed down somewhat, but also said his email message was designed “to make a point.” However, he also said, “We’re going into this policy meeting with (the) hope of solving this issue.”
He said the problem the education foundation has is that the proposed policy changes would restrict the organization’s independence. He also argued that donors might be less inclined to support the foundation with a loss of autonomy.
Britt said the other major concern is that teachers and staff may view the proposed new approval process as having too many hoops to jump through, which would make it more difficult and time consuming to apply for and receive a grant.
Scifres said the policy changes were not aimed at restricting the education foundation, but were recommended by the school district’s auditors.
“We got a firm directive that we needed to have better control,” she said. “They suggested anything above $5,000 really needs to have the approval of the superintendent and the board.”
Scifres also said the proposed policy change would provide a better understanding of any additional financial impacts on the school district.
Britt said the education foundation is prepared to disclose future budget impacts, but would like to see the formal approval requirements removed from the proposal.
Last week, Scifres was clear that a change “is not a done deal. The language is absolutely not set in stone” adding it’s likely the policy would need more work before it came to the full School Board for adoption.
Current staff writer Kate Irish Collins contributed to this report.
Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.