Like the old Jerry Lewis telethons, the numbers spin quickly on the website for the Coronado Schools Foundation.
More than $400,000 for STEM Pathway Funding and another $356,100 for Arts Pathway Funding came in during 2021-22, thanks to 1,383 generous foundation donors.
The Coronado Schools Foundation is a nonprofit private business.
Its mission for over 40 years has been to provide maximum return of funds directly and solely to the Coronado Unified School District, and it donates approximately $800,000 annually to CUSD, according to district spokeswoman Maria Simon.
She notes the foundation has returned over $13.6 million “to our schools since its inception in 1982.” The organization also has amassed $9.5 million in net assets, records show.
With all of the money coming in and millions of dollars at its disposal, why are Coronado taxpayers giving the foundation free rent for roughly 1,000 square feet of office space at the Coronado Unified School District headquarters?
It’s a sensitive subject that Superintendent Karl Mueller didn’t want to talk about.
Twice he declined to answer whether the foundation was getting free rent when asked by The Coronado News.
Only after The Coronado News in writing asked about the situation did the district come clean: The foundation gets a $3,150 a month benefit from the district, er, taxpayers in free rent. (The district declined to say if the foundation was paying for utilities or other office expenses).
At a minimum, that’s $37,800 a year, courtesy of Coronado taxpayers.
Foundation has $9.5 million in net assets
Some may argue that’s a tiny part of Coronado Unified School District’s budget, and the free rent is a nice trade off for the hundreds of thousands of dollars the foundation gives Crown City kids.
Yet, consider this: As a government approved non-profit organization, the foundation pays no taxes on its income.
And, it’s most recent tax return filings, which are publicly available because of its non-profit status, show the foundation is flush with $9.5 million in net assets.
That’s at least a $1.5 million jump from the prior year.
Rent could pay for instructional aides
So, what could the district do with that rent?
Coronado Teachers President Jennifer Landry has repeatedly told the school board this year that the district lacks instructional aides for students.
Say it cost $20 an hour for an aide, the lack of rent being paid by the foundation would provide 1,890 hours of aide time in Coronado schools.
Landry at the April board meeting also has told the trustees that there are worn out carpets that need to be replaced.
“Not an uncommon practice”
Simon, a former school board member, told The Coronado News that “it is not an uncommon practice in California for a local education foundation to receive free office space within a school or district facility that it serves.”
For example,the Solana Beach Schools Foundation, which has $558,208 in net assets, pays its district for office space.
And, how many parents have said: “Just because so-and-so is doing it, it doesn’t make it right.”
Free space for We the Parents?
Simon also said the district has not been approached for office space by any other nonprofits that raise funds for our schools.
It would be an interesting to see if We the Parents Coronado, a conservative group that has been a thorn in the side to Mueller and the Coronado education establishment, became a non-profit corporation and began raising money for the schools.
Based on precedent with the schools foundation, wouldn’t the district have to give We the Parents Coronado free office space?
Or, how about the Optimist Club of Coronado?
That group gives thousands of dollars to the schools and runs programs that help hundreds of kids. Think how much more that volunteer group could do if it had free office space right down the hall from Mueller?
Perhaps all the private, non-profit sports clubs in town that help kids should get free office space too?
Unfair, taxpayer-funded advantage
There are plenty more examples of how the district is giving an unfair, taxpayer-funded advantage to a private company in the Coronado Schools Foundation and not the rest of the community.
It’s time for the Coronado Schools Foundation – with millions of dollars at its disposal – to stop getting a free ride at taxpayers’ expense.
Craig Harris is editor and associate publisher of The Coronado News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org