C-K board unsure of fundraising group

CLAYSBURG – While a new fundraising group is set to offer money to Claysburg-Kimmel School District programs, some on the school board remain hesitant to offer support, citing the group’s unconventional setup and its willingness to back charter, online and home schooling.

The Claysburg Education Foundation, awaiting state incorporation and pursuing nonprofit status afterward, will gather grants, business donations and alumni support help to fund the work of teachers, according to its founding documents. But, unlike similar groups at other area districts, the foundation is set to operate outside administrators’ control.

It’s the brainchild, in part, of the same community activists who confronted the board over the past year to form a “Citizens’ Advisory Committee” and drew packed crowds to board meetings. The leaders of that movement, which sought to improve poor test scores and state rankings, have since moved on to district fundraising.

“This isn’t strictly for just the school district,” said founding officer Rich Allison, who formed the prior Citizens’ Committee before the board stripped him of leadership in January. “We will be backing all kinds of different projects.”

Comments like that – and a website that says the foundation will “cast a wide net” including charter and cyber schools – led some board members to question a proposal that they officially sanction the group at a June 4 meeting.

“I have a problem when I read it’s going to benefit cyber schools, home schooling,”board Vice President Jonathan Burkett said at the meeting.

Fellow member John Burket agreed: He wouldn’t want to lend a seal of approval to a group that funds the same schools that siphon away Claysburg-Kimmel students.

Charter schools receive public funding but operate outside the state public school system; cyber schools operate similarly, relying on public funds but outside districts’ direct control. Disputes between public education and charter school advocates have led to friction in some areas, although no brick-and-mortar charter school exists near Claysburg.

Allison said the foundation set a broad mandate and left “Claysburg-Kimmel” from its name precisely because the movement away from public schools could soon change the face of education. He attributed some board members’ fears to a sense that cyber, charter and home schooling could vie with public districts.

“Think about it: Those are means of competition versus the Claysburg-Kimmel school system. That’s why they’re squeamish,” he said.

At least one state expert in education foundations agreed with Burkett and Burket.

“That’s a mistake,” Bob New, president of the Pennsylvania Consortium of Education Foundations, said of the plan to fund schools beyond Claysburg-Kimmel. “This is a business, not a parent organization or a PTA or a booster club. You really have to work with that school district. … Don’t add all that other stuff.”

New, based in Phoenixville, said only 10 percent of the state’s approximately 250 education foundations are effective. All those, including the Altoona Area School District Foundation – which he cited as one of the best – work exclusively with their home districts, he said.

Nevertheless, Claysburg-Kimmel board members Mona Eckley and Joe Musselman seemed upbeat about the project at the June 4 meeting. Eckley, who sits on the formative foundation’s committee, urged the board to offer official approval as soon as it can.

“If the school gets $10,000, that’s $10,000 you didn’t have before,” she said.

Downplaying the references to charter and cyber schools, Musselman encouraged the board to consider the possibilities: With recent talks to introduce wireless learning and laptop computers for students, he said, outside cash would be a boon.

“Could you imagine the day when the Claysburg-Kimmel Education Foundation buys them for us?” he said. “That’d be hard to turn down.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.