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MUST says thanks but no thanks to $75K from MUSD
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In a bid to become a fully “independent” non-profit organization free from the tethers of bureaucracy, the Manteca Unified School Trust board is turning down the $75,000 contribution from the Manteca Unified School District.

The Board of Education approved the money for MUST during their July meeting. But instead of giving it in a lump sum as the district has done in previous years, the school board decided to give the money to MUST in $25,000 increments payable this month, in January and then March 2012. Additionally, the subsequent payments after the amount given this month was going to be dependent upon the availability of funds in the school district general fund coffers pending the outcome of more budget cuts in education from Sacramento.

The MUST board’s vote turning down the $75,000 from the school district also gave instructions to MUST chairman Roger Goatcher to relay that message to the Board of Trustees at their next meeting.

By maintaining fiscal independence from the school district, MUST executive director Wendy King said the organization is “stay(ing) with the original intent” of the foundation and be able “to privately all work together, volunteering our time” and doing the job they have to do without being bogged down by a lot of “bureaucracy” and being “under the public microscope.”

The organization has always planned to be independent; it’s just happening “earlier than we had hoped,” King said.

“It’s great that the district wants to help but we can’t continue to rely on that,” commented MUST board vice chairman Bill Van Ryn piggy-backing on King’s comments.

While declaring fiscal independence, Van Ryn admitted that in this “brutal economy, it would be brutal for us to pare back” on the sports’ gate and registration fees. However, he said he is “encouraged by the way our programs were accepted by the public.”

Added MUST board treasurer Carol Davis who is also a founding member of the organization, “We’re not here to do the job of Manteca Unified but to augment it. We made it clear at the beginning for MUST to be independent…, free of any government restrictions besides being a non-profit to help the kids the best we can.”

Behind the MUST’s decision to cut fiscal strings from the school district is also the organization’s strong desire not to be under the restrictions of conducting their business under the Brown Act, the legal requirement governing meetings of organizations that receive public funds.

In addition to returning the $75,000 to the school district, MUST has also adopted a policy not to have two Board of Trustees representatives sitting on the MUST board in order to get away from the Brown Act rules.

As part of that transition, the MUST board at their last meeting also voted to accept Superintendent Jason Messer’s resignation from the board.

In the same vein, MUST also made a change in its bylaws which states that no school board members would sit on the MUST board; however, they would be welcome to sit in the audience during MUST meetings.

Three years ago, the school district gave MUST $150,000. The following year, MUST received $75,000 from the district. Last year, that amount was $25,000.

It’s those descending figures which prompted Manteca resident Karen Pearsall to address the Board of Trustees at their last meeting. Since MUST wants to be out of the Brown Act regulations, she was perplexed as to why the school district decided to give $75,000 this time to the organization, especially in light of the prevailing budget crisis.

As to whether or not MUST can fiscally weather the budget challenges without the funds from the school district, Davis said the organization can do it.

“We’re pretty much OK. I believe we can do it. It’s going to be tight, but we can do it. I believe, it can be done,” she said.

She also added, “It’s very exciting how the community has embraced (MUST).”

Goatcher said the organization has built up enough reserves which will keep MUST and its programs afloat for at least a year. He said the reserves came from gate fees collected from sports events, donations, as well as proceeds from the annual Pumpkin Run.

MUST was founded in 2006 when dire budget constraints made it impossible for the school district to continue offering students life-enriching activities and programs such as after-school sports activities and art classes. The grass-roots effort was supported by hundreds of parents, area businesses and individuals in the community.