Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education looks to define relationship with booster groups

by ellin walsh | REPORTER Published:

Cuyahoga Falls -- Should booster groups be school-sponsored or independent?

Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education President Kellie Patterson has asked her colleagues to mull the pros and cons of that relationship after they participated in a video conference on the subject March 4. Patterson says she anticipates discussion of whether the school district should formally recognize parent support groups when the board convenes March 18. Superintendent Dr. Todd M. Nichols said that currently in the district, "no formal or informal recognition has taken place."

According to Nichols, the issue came to light when some representatives of the school district attended a presentation on booster groups during the 2013 Capital Conference for the Ohio School Boards Association in November 2013. The presentation concerned the relationship between booster clubs and school districts. "During the course of the session," Nichols said, "we learned some things that we felt that we needed to share with our booster clubs."

The district's booster groups and parent organizations include: PTAs, Gridiron, Athletic Boosters, Instrumental Music Patrons and Choral Music Boosters.

On March 4, Erin Wessendorf-Wortman, a lawyer with the Cincinnati-based firm Ennis Roberts Fischer Co. briefed the Board on the various legal relationships that are possible between a school district and such groups and the ramifications associated with each. Wessendorf-Wortman said a school board can choose to formally recognize booster groups or make a conscious decision not to formally recognize them. The danger, she said, is when school boards do neither. "A lot of the districts I work with fall in the middle ground," Wessendorf-Wortman said, so it's often unclear to the public when a booster group is acting with board approval and when it's not.

Wessendorf-Wortman recommends the school board should fully embrace either the recognition stance or the non-recognition stance; to do so, they should take formal action by adopting a resolution, she said, making clear that a group is either district-sponsored or that the board chooses not to recognize any support organizations. With formal recognition can come certain privileges, she said, such as allowing booster groups to use board facilities free of charge and the district's name, logo and trademark in fundraising. "But that also means the support organizations have to meet certain requirements set by the board in their policies or administrative guidelines," Wessendorf-Wortman said. If it chooses this option, she recommends the Cuyahoga Falls School Board formally recognize its booster groups on an annual basis, perhaps prior to the start of every school year. According to Wessendorf-Wortman, such a scenario would give the Board an opportunity to review booster groups' adherence to the requirements it has set forth, like participation in annual training offered by the Ohio Attorney General's office. Any agreement between the school board and a formally recognized group should address the use of the board name, logo and mascot; insurance coverage and money-handling procedures; as well as how much oversight the district will have over the booster group, Wessendorf-Wortman said.

With the non-recognition policy, booster groups would be treated as any other community group, Wessendorf-Wortman said. That means they would not be allowed to use the school district's name or logo and that all their advertising must make it clear the organization is not board-sponsored. Such groups are not subject to the direct control and direction of the school district.

Board member Kathy Moffet asked what percentage of school districts in the state have booster clubs that have been formally recognized. Wessendorf-Wortman said her firm represents more than 130 school districts and educational service centers in Ohio and said she is working with about 30 school districts presently "working toward full recognition."

"I know that our office has highly recommended it [that districts recognize booster groups] for years," Wessendorf-Wortman stated. "Now whether or not boards of education actually do that and remember to follow through on a yearly basis due to the turn over is a whole 'nother story."

The superintendent said his recommendation will be to organize a representative committee of the Board of Education and representatives from the various booster groups to discuss the differences and a course of action.

The Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education next meets March 18, beginning at 6 p.m., in the Harold E. Wilson Administrative Center, 431 Stow Ave.

Email: ewalsh@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9419

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