CCBC's Essex donors defend their autonomy and funds.

Foundations' merger opposed

February 08, 2005|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Frank Stephenson is a civic-minded captain of industry in Baltimore County, and for two decades he has put his money where his mouth is.

As chairman of the board of Skytech Inc. in Middle River, an East Coast aircraft sales company, Stephenson has presided over the local Rotary Club and headed numerous fund-raisers. Since the early 1980s, he has raised more than $100,000 for scholarships for the Essex Community College Foundation; he has served on the foundation's board for about eight years.

Now Stephenson and an overwhelming majority of the private foundation's executive board, who steward a $3 million treasury, are worried that their work and money will be swallowed up in a proposed consolidation of the foundations at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex, Catonsville and Dundalk campuses.

"This smacks of a power grab," said Stephenson. "By doing this, the system's administration is creating another bureaucracy, one that takes away my personal desire to donate to the college in the future."

CCBC system leaders, with the blessing of their trustees, want the three independent college foundations to merge into a single entity to improve fund-raising efforts while, they say, still tending to local scholarship needs.

The executive board of the Essex foundation is fighting the move because members doubt that the $3 million they raised will be dedicated to promising high school students on the east side who want to attend college. They say they fear CCBC wants to apply the foundation's money to whittle away the system's deficit.

The Community College of Baltimore County, with 67,384 credit and noncredit students, is facing a $6 million deficit, a spokeswoman said. Tuition now approaches $90 a credit and leaders are exploring new methods of raising capital, such as leasing 5 acres of the Essex campus for development of a senior housing complex.

Bruce Berman, vice chancellor for institutional advancement, is heading the proposed consolidation of the foundations that would, if successful, bring $6.8 million into a new CCBC foundation. He wrote in an e-mail that a new foundation would "honor all restrictions placed on donated dollars" for local scholarships and indicated the private foundation money would not be used to erase the system's debt or improve facilities.

"CCBC has always valued the contributions made by each of its campus foundations and in no way wants to diminish the fundraising efforts of its dedicated volunteers," Berman wrote.

Berman said the merger should occur because the three schools and several learning centers have operated as one system since 1997.

The system's chancellor, Irving Pressley McPhail, said the system's campaign for donations would carry greater cachet than the individual institutions would - a strategy approved by the CCBC board of trustees.

Leaders of the foundations at Catonsville and Dundalk are not resisting the merger, although Michael A. Braun, president of the Catonsville foundation, has expressed concerns over control of investment assets, retention of support staff and the change from a foundation to an advisory council.

"The management of the change has been less than wonderful, but I plan to support the idea fully," Braun said.

Cathy Birkelien, executive director of the Dundalk foundation and an employee of the college, said her group embraced the merger.

Catonsville's foundation has a balance of $2.5 million, and Dundalk $1.3 million, officials at those foundations said.

The Essex foundation said it distributed $241,000 worth of scholarships last year. This year, the foundation leaders will begin a separate merit scholarship program, aimed at east-side high school honors students, that will distribute $66,000 more in scholarship funds, totaling more than $300,000 in 2005, officials said.

Robert D'Antonio, president of the Essex foundation, said his executive board would fight the attempted merger. As a private nonprofit entity, his foundation is not legally bound to join the system consolidation, he said.

"First, we have no real guarantee the our money would not go to erasing the system's $6 million debt," D'Antonio said. "They clearly want to downgrade us to an advisory council and manage the money that we have collected through hard work in the community."

He added: "The CCBC system wants to neuter the foundation, and that would reduce any appeal to local donors. Basically, the entire idea to us is insulting."

To Robert N. Santoni Sr., president of a large East Baltimore supermarket, the CCBC system's rationale for consolidating the foundations is flawed.

"These are community colleges, not the University of Maryland or Wisconsin system. The emphasis is on community," he said.

"It's still quite nice to be able to help a needy student invest in their future with just a telephone call," Santoni added. "That connection should not be lost."

System officials have expressed hope that an agreement could be reached with the private foundations over the next several months.

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