Public owed answers on Strive's operations

Questions far outnumber answers about the operations of the nonprofit Strive to Excel program.

Heading that list of questions: Why has Strive president Tim Singleton been left to his own devices, including writing his own paycheck and signing off on his own expense reimbursements, with no oversight from the organization's board?

That question is quickly followed by: What does the Beaufort County school district really know about the operations of an organization it houses in Hilton Head Island High School and allows access to students it is charged with educating?

This group has been funded by donations from individuals and other nonprofit organizations in this area. It has received resource support from the taxpayer-funded school district. The community is owed:

  • An independent audit of Strive's finances.
  • A new board capable of making decisions in the best interests of the organization, not its president.
  • An accounting of the program's viability in achieving its stated mission -- helping at-risk students prepare for college or technical school.
  • That should include how these students fare in college. Just getting them enrolled says nothing about whether the mentoring and tutoring offered by Strive truly prepared them for a post-high school education. And isn't that what the general public and the school district have been supporting?

    That last objective falls primarily to the school district, which like the Strive board, appears to have allowed Singleton to operate on autopilot, with little to no accountability. District officials should seek -- or produce if they have it -- documented evidence of the program's success in achieving its stated goals.

    The school district needs to assure itself and the public that Strive is a demonstrably viable program. Saying it is doesn't make it so.

    And the district should better explain an arrangement whereby Singleton gets coverage under the district's health-care plan.

    As for the nonprofit's own oversight of Singleton's work, that has been nonexistent. Strive's bylaws require its board to conduct annual reviews and approve any changes in compensation. But the board has met infrequently in recent years and struggled to assemble a quorum when it did.

    Still, that doesn't excuse any lack of oversight. Those who serve on local nonprofit boards are accountable for that group's operations.

    It is startling to see Singleton's salary and benefits listed at $135,582 for fiscal year 2009-10 in Strive's 2010 federal tax filing when its revenue totaled only $380,780.

    Tom Gardo, the only listed board member on the group's 2010 tax filing who says he's still on the board, gets some credit for taking it on the chin about the board's performance. But he has it backwards when he says, "Now that we have this obvious scrutiny, we need to get our act together."

    Does that mean absent the recent scrutiny brought to bear by this newspaper, the board didn't need to get its act together? Hardly.

    Strive might be helping students achieve their educational goals. If it is, it can withstand the scrutiny and put in place needed changes in the way it operates.

    But it cannot continue as it is and keep or earn the public's trust.