Wednesday, September 24, 2014

School board should live up to Mary Stoner's trust

This from H-L:
Like so many things uncovered by a recent audit, the Fayette County school district's handling of the Stoner Trust Fund doesn't smell of scandal but does fall short of reasonable expectations of good management.

This is particularly disappointing because the fund arises from a generous bequest by a retired teacher who, when she died at age 93 in 1961, left $150,000 to establish a fund for the "enhancement and enrichment" of educational programs.

In light of the district's annual budget of almost $400 million, it's understandable that this fund — now worth about $1.1 million with almost $400,000 available for use — is not a top priority for management. And, given that the terms of the bequest seemed to be very broad and management instructions vague, the fund has had limited direction or oversight.

Which is an argument for taking it off the plate of the district's managers.

An earlier school board accepted the money and responsibility for administering the fund. And the current school board must set it right.

The board could begin by appointing an oversight committee. The auditor recommended at least one board member serve on such a committee, which would then start afresh, using Mary Stoner's guidance provided over half a century ago, to figure out how to use the money in ways that enhance education in Lexington's public schools.

Among the first issues will be managing the trust.

Superintendent Tom Shelton agreed additional oversight is needed. On Monday night Shelton told the school board that he is looking into the possibility of the Bluegrass Community Foundation, an umbrella for many charities and endowments in Central and Eastern Kentucky, taking management of all the district's trusts, including the Stoner fund.

Getting outside management would be a huge step toward ending even the appearance of favoritism in how the funds are awarded.

Whoever manages the fund, current financial reports must be available online through the district's website, as well as guidelines established by the committee and minutes of its meetings.

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