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Valencia baseball situation has raised fundraising questions

Other booster clubs have provided transparency

Posted: May 17, 2014 9:25 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2014 9:25 p.m.
 

When it was announced on March 21 that Valencia High School teacher and head baseball coach Jared Snyder was taking a leave of absence, it left many parents with questions about the money raised by the team’s booster club.

If the Valencia Diamond Club had been registered as a nonprofit — such as the one for the school’s football team — its fundraising finances would be detailed online for everyone to see.

However, the bank account held by the baseball booster club is a private one, and that’s a perfectly legal, reliable and acceptable way of raising money for school teams and clubs, according to the school district.

What it doesn’t readily allow for, however, is transparency.

Some parents asked about the Valencia Diamond Club’s finances at a booster club meeting held April 14, according to at least three people who attended that meeting.

However, they left the meeting frustrated and with few of their questions answered, they said.

Attempts to reach Snyder for comment by phone and email have been unsuccessful.

An email sent to the William S. Hart Union High School District asking the district to relay a message to Snyder was answered with this response: “For active staff members, we would generally contact them or forward an email and ask them to contact you — then it is their decision. But with a staff member on leave, we are unable to fulfill your request.”

Big money
“I asked (school officials), why don’t you post the books online? And why is there no oversight?” Karin Lacy, mother of a graduating Valencia High School student, said in an interview with The Signal. Lacy was at the April 14 meeting.

“This secrecy, to me, has been the most alarming thing,” she said, adding that it has whipped up rumors and speculation about Snyder and about what happened to the Diamond Club bank account and how much was in it.

“What people have to remember is the coach is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty,” Lacy said.

The bank accounts of high school booster clubs — parent-initiated fundraising groups for programs ranging from band and cheer to choir and sports — can mount into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Valencia High School football booster club, for example, listed a total revenue of $130,732 in 2012, the last year for which tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service were posted online.

The Diamond Club held its biggest fundraiser of the season on March 15: the Valencia Vikings Baseball Golf Tournament at Elkins Ranch Golf Course in Fillmore.

A flier promoting the golf tournament fundraiser states: “Please make your check payable to Valencia Diamond Club - c/o Jared Snyder.”

An estimated 200 people attended the tournament, said Kevin Williams, the Elkins Ranch pro shop assistant in charge of marketing. Tickets for the event ranged in price from $170 to $190, so at face value, the booster club apparently took in between $34,000 and $38,000 that day.

“They hold it every year and every year it’s a success,” Williams said about the tournament.

But the books aren’t available for parents to see how much the Diamond Club took in and how much it spends.

Parent concerns
Dave Oliva, father of a Valencia student and a parent involved in the Diamond Club, said he has questions about finances and he wants answers.

“In my seven years there, not once was there any accounting of money coming in and money coming out,” he said in an interview. Oliva filed a complaint with the district about Snyder’s handling of the club finances.

A third parent, who requested anonymity, expressed the same frustration over lack of club financial information.

“I am absolutely furious,” he said. “I have concerns about the booster club, of course, not only being not able to see where the money is going.”

“The bigger thing, for me, is how does the (William S. Hart Union High School) District allow this thing to go on?” Lacy said.

Hart district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said she could not comment on the Diamond Club situation because the matter is under review.

But she said booster club organizers have two ways to run their clubs’ funds: under private accounts, as the

Diamond Club does, or registering as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The choice is up to the club founders.

Nonprofit or not
Both bookkeeping methods are legitimate, district-approved ways of supporting school teams and groups, according to Pinsker.

“The district has been reviewing these different mechanisms and is working to develop a preferred approach that allows for best practices, including checks and balances and oversight,” Pinsker said in a prepared statement.

Valencia High School has booster clubs that use both types of bookkeeping.

The school’s band and flag booster club and its parent advisory council each registered themselves as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

The band and flag club, for example, shows $73,012 in total contributions received in 2012.

The Dance Team Booster Club operates under a private account, as the Diamond Club does.

“We have incredibly detailed bookkeeping,” President Mark White told The Signal a couple of days after the school’s dance team won a national competition that involved 100 other high schools.

“We can account for every penny,” White said, adding his club has complete transparency. “If there’s no oversight, you have questions about where the money goes.”

Anyone wanting to see his books, he said, merely has to ask.

Registered nonprofits
Valencia’s football booster club has chosen the more transparent, but also the more paperwork-heavy, bookkeeping route. The End Zone Booster Club is a registered nonprofit.

Any parent who wants to check out the club’s finances can go online and read exactly how much money is collected, spent and saved. The information is available at websites like ProPrublica.org and GuideStar.org.

Registering a booster club as a nonprofit requires providing both the California Department of Justice and the state’s Franchise Tax Board with annual financial reports.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on the issue because it might be construed as tax advice, but spokeswoman Denise Azi of the California Franchise Tax Board said booster clubs are run properly when they’re registered as nonprofits.

“I was talking to one of our attorneys here who told me most booster clubs are run properly because they are tax-exempt 501(c)(3)s,” she said. “You wouldn’t want fundraising money to be considered taxable income.”

Guidelines
While Hart district officials work “to develop a preferred approach that allows for best practices, including checks and balances and oversight,” officials at the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District urge booster clubs to register as 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

On the first page of a 55-page booklet called “Booster Club Guidelines,” district officials make clear their preference for booster clubs registering as nonprofits.

“It’s all about having open communication,” said Jayne Christakos, associate superintendent of business for the district, when asked what prompted the district to compile such a booklet.

“The fundraising role of booster clubs is particularly crucial in today’s economic climate,” the booklet states.

“Booster clubs and parents are being asked to contribute and to raise more money than ever before.

“This increased need for parental contributions generates a higher level of accountability for the coach/adviser, school and booster club officers.”

The entire book can be viewed online at the district’s website by visiting www.pylusd.org and searching on “booster club guidelines.”

Not registering as a nonprofit is asking for trouble, said Christakos. “I’ve seen incidents of things that go awry,” she said, adding that registering as a nonprofit allows for absolute transparency.

“It’s about ensuring we’re doing everything right and, at the same time, protecting ourselves as well,” she said.

“It’s about ensuring we’re using the best practices and that we have clear communication as to what’s appropriate for fundraising.”

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