Several Beaufort County Board of Education members say they don't know much about a nonprofit program that has operated in Hilton Head Island High School since 2001 and recently has come under scrutiny for apparent lack of financial controls.
Strive to Excel's compensation to president and CEO Tim Singleton jumped by more than $40,000 in the 2009-10 school year, according to federal tax records, to an amount equal to about 32 percent of the organization's gross revenues. The increase came without approval from Strive's governing board, as required by the organization's bylaws.
That board has nearly disintegrated, but Singleton and its lone remaining member, Tom Gardo, met Monday with potential new board members and discussed ways to shore up the Strive's governance.
Meanwhile, school board members Wayne Carbiener, Steven Morello and George Wilson said they know little about Strive's situation, its history or its performance history. Bill Evans, a former Hilton Head High principal, said he is familiar with the program but wanted to withhold public comment until the board discusses the program.
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It's not clear if or when Strive will be discussed. Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said Friday discussion of the organization has not been put on the agenda for the board's next meeting Tuesday.
Singleton, who also is Hilton Head High's football coach, receives benefits and a paycheck from the district, which is reimbursed by Strive.
"With any partnership, we don't know all the details," Washington said. "I hold the administration accountable for making sure that those things that we have in place are doing what they need to do."
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said that based on what she knows about the situation, recent revelations are insufficient reason to sever the relationship between Hilton Head High and Strive.
At least one board member says the district needs to do a better job measuring the performance of Strive, which aims to "provide academic, financial and social skills support for public high school students," according to the mission statement on its federal tax filing.
"I very seriously doubt that anyone is following these students even before they get out of high school to say 'Is that child coming out the other end a better person?' " said Julie Bell, who represents a portion of Hilton Head Island.
Washington said the board needs to get to the bottom of that very question: does Strive continue to meet the goals it has set out?
But Washington said it is the administration's responsibility to make sure Strive -- or other community program the district partners with to mentor students -- is functioning properly, not the board's.
"I'm hoping that the Strive board will resolve their issues and not let it cascade. My plate is full; I don't need it to cascade on to me," Washington said.
Truesdale said the district doesn't track the program's success or failure because it is not a district program. Nonetheless, she invited those with concerns to let the district know about them.
Hilton Head High principal Amanda O'Nan said she did not know how many students currently are participating in the program, which holds after-school meetings, and would not say if she has received complaints about it.
"As I understand it, they're (rebuilding) the structure of Strive. I'm hopeful it will be a positive change," she said, declining further comment.
SUPPORTERS' REACTION MIXED
Some of Strive's financial supporters say they were surprised by Singleton's pay level and the board's apparent lack of oversight, but say that doesn't mean they won't support it in the future.
"I don't know exactly what happened, if everyone on that board was dotting I's and crossing T's," said Heritage Classic Foundation board chairman Simon Fraser, whose sons played football for Singleton and the Seahawks but did not participate in Strive. "But I like Tim. I liked him as a coach. This is all devastating to that (Strive) program, and I see no other purpose except maybe to put that board back together."
The Heritage Classic Foundation gave Strive more than $74,500 from 2008 to 2010, according to federal tax records. This April, Strive was one of 13 local programs that received an unexpected boost -- a share of $250,000 donated by the Verizon Foundation and disbursed by the Heritage Classic Foundation. The amount Strive received was not immediately available.
According to federal tax forms, in 2009-10, Strive had $428,000 in gross receipts and gave $138,582 in compensation to Singleton, who supervised one employee by year's end. During the same filing period, Heritage executive director Steve Wilmot earned about $5,000 more -- $143,310, or about 1.5 percent of his organization's gross receipts -- to manage a $9.6 million budget and a staff of 11.
Fraser said it is unfair to compare their salaries, however, because their organizations differ in mission and size.
"I don't think you can look at (Singleton's compensation) as a percentage of your gross revenue," Fraser said. "You've got to look at it as a compensation for the job done. ... He runs programs in multiple schools at various times. There's a lot that goes on with Strive.
"It's a full-time, time-consuming, more-than-full-time job. I don't know how he does that and coaches, to be honest with you."
Would the Heritage Classic Foundation look favorably upon a Strive grant request in light of recent revelations?
"I suspect that with everything that's been in the paper, we would investigate it and see where they are with everything and make a decision then," Fraser said. "Personally, I would support a grant to Strive."
A list of financial contributors on Strive's website includes the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, but executive director Denise Spencer said Strive has not received a grant from the foundation since 2006 and hasn't applied for one since 2007, when it was denied funding.
The Community Foundation also administers Strive's scholarship program, but that is funded by an anonymous donor, and Strive neither contributes to nor receives money from that fund, Spencer said. Recipients picked by Strive are further vetted by the Community Foundation, and checks are sent directly to qualified winners' colleges.
Spencer said grant-awarding organizations typically try to ensure an applicant is properly governed, has the organizational wherewithal to pull off the project it seeks to fund and will use the grant for the intended purpose.
"We look at audited financials, if available, and we look at 990s," Spencer said. "We look at a list of board members. ... One of the things we look at in relation to any grant is the strength of a board."
Spencer wouldn't speculate about what kind of reception a Strive grant request would receive from her organization or others. She said the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry wouldn't ignore news reports or community concerns about an applicant, but she cautioned the organization wouldn't act on innuendo.
"We look at all information we can find," Spencer said. "However, we are looking for factual information, so we're going to take into consideration things we hear or see but make sure we're dealing with fact."
- Salary for nonprofit head comes under scrutiny; Aug. 29, 2011:
- Singleton says pay did not increase; Aug. 31, 2011:
- Strive CEO Singleton claimed $25,000 in credit card reimbursements; receipts apparently not reviewed; Aug. 30, 2011
- Singleton, Arundell mum following Strive to Excel scrutiny; Sept. 1, 2011