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Schools Nonprofit Lost Records, Missing $14,000

Finances were in disarray, the treasurer threatened to resign, and school officials never resolved what happened to the missing $14,000 slated for a handicap-accessible playground. Opened for review by the Richmond School Board last week, the Richmond Education Foundation's records are spotty and unorganized -- for example, all 2005 bank records are missing — raising new questions about mismanagement and potential malfeasance inside a nonprofit set up to help city schoolchildren.

Minutes from the foundation's April 21, 2004, meeting show that the foundation was undergoing an audit of its finances and that the audit was being conducted by local accounting firm Larry Saunders & Associates.

But further reference to that audit does not exist in any REF documentation reviewed by Style, and former School Board member Reggie Malone confirms that the matter seems to simply have disappeared.

"I asked the then-School Board Chairman Dr. [Larry] Olanrewaju what was going on with that [audit], and I never got a solid answer," says Malone, who asked for information in open School Board meetings "two or three times" without result.

"They never reported back to the board," Malone says. "The board discussed the matter and we were waiting for a report — at least I was anyway. I never got it."

James Benson, a senior manager at Larry Saunders & Associates who handled the firm's business with the REF, says that no audit was ever asked for or undertaken.

"The last thing I did for them was a 990 [IRS filing] in 2005," says Benson. "We never did an audit on them. There's never been a [foundation] audit report issued with our name on it or anything."

The REF's records also show that by April 2005, the organization had lost the confidence of one of its biggest benefactors, Pauline Brooks, the widow of former City Councilman Joseph Brooks. That month, the foundation's chairwoman, former Richmond Schools Superintendent Lucille Brown, gave a check for $5,007, the full amount collected in Brooks' name, to Brooks' widow. Brooks was upset that a check for more than $600 was not deposited for more than 10 months.

Former foundation treasurer Terone B. Green says he never was allowed any true financial duties as treasurer — never maintained or even saw the books — a situation that frustrated him during his tenure.

Green insists that, while disorganized, the foundation — most of the board members were School Board members and administration officials — had no shady dealings. "It was just a mess," Green says.

At one point, in March 2005, the foundation's meeting minutes show a frustrated Green suggesting that if the financial problems were not resolved, he would "resign as treasurer and publicly announce the reasons for his resignation."

More troubling, perhaps, are the missing financial records related to a playground project at Linwood Holton Elementary School.

That project was abandoned because of cost, but not before the foundation collected more than $13,000 in contributions from donors interested in helping build a handicap-accessible playground.

But a correspondence between foundation board members questions why some records show more than $27,000 on the books for the Holton project, and they ask for an accounting of the $14,000 on the books that's not traceable to actual donations.

"There was never any resolution to that," says Malone, who also is a former city council candidate. "I heard a lot about that in 2005, and then it just dropped off the radar."

Malone says he eventually gave up on understanding the foundation's goings-on: "It was just too much of an entanglement."

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