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Why does MUST prefer not being under public scrutiny?
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

What is the price to be a “fully independent non-profit organization” and what is it worth, in Manteca Unified Student Trust Executive Director Wendy King’s words, not to be placed “under the public microscope”? Apparently, the MUST Trust board decided the answer is $75,000. This contribution, offered by the Manteca Unified School District, was recently rejected by the MUST foundation. Why? According to MUST Executive Director King (also a school board trustee), the foundation’s decision reflects its desire to “stay with the original intent” and “to privately all work together, volunteering our time.” However, the fact that the Executive Director is now paid $20,000 a year seemingly contradicts this “original intent.”

King also urged that the MUST foundation not be held down by “bureaucracy” nor put “under the public microscope.” What is this dreaded “bureaucracy” that the foundation appears so desperate to avoid? If the MUST  board of directors had accepted the school district’s financial contribution, it would have also had to accept the conditions of the policy that the MUSD board had approved at its last meeting. The school board had re-affirmed its original policy requirement that two school trustees sit on the MUST directors’ board, with full voting privileges. That, in turn, would subject MUST foundation meetings to the Brown Act. Although the full MUST board usually meets no more than four times yearly, the MUST board of directors resists opening its meetings to the public. Why, has never really been made clear.

I served on the original MUSD Measure M School Bond Oversight Committee. Like the MUST board, we met less than a handful of times per year. Overnight committee meetings followed the Brown Act and encouraged public participation. Yet I can recall only two occasions where anyone from the public or media attended. It really didn’t seem to be that big a deal. But to turn down $75,000, the MUST  board of directors must (no pun intended) feel quite differently.

The Bulletin mentioned MUST cutting “fiscal strings from the school district” and “maintaining fiscal independence from the school district.” If true financial independence is honestly the goal of the MUST foundation, then it also needs to relinquish all expectations of “in-kind” donations from MUSD. So MUST  should pay its fair share of the  athletic director’s salary. Although funded completely by the district, some of this director’s responsibilities pertain to MUST activities. It should no longer receive free use of school facilities or electricity. It should purchase its own seeds for its Ag projects, instead of relying on the district to do so. Also, many of the MUST  board of directors are current or former MUSD employees. It would be prudent to ensure that their commendable volunteer efforts for MUST be confined to their own time, rather than school hours. MUST should avoid using district materials, copy machines, and resources. This underscores that everything truly is separate and independent.

MUST is a valuable organization that provides worthwhile programs for MUSD. students. But many other organizations also offer services to Manteca’s children, whether or not they are MUSD. students. MUSD lacks the financial resources to allow free use of its facilities or equipment to all of them. What if our school district gets slapped with lawsuits over perceived discrimination? Such litigation only drains the general fund and diverts from student needs.

MUST board vice chairman Bill Van Ryn claimed that in this “brutal economy, it would be brutal for us to pare back” fees for student registration in the programs or reduce admission costs for spectators. Yet in these “brutal” economic times, MUST can afford to reject $75,000 while now paying its Executive Director, formerly a volunteer position, $20,000 a year. Sincerely,

Karen Pearsall
Manteca
August 3, 2011