Some Joplin residents wonder where the donations to school district went

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Joplin, Mo.'s high school, shown here May 24, was destroyed in last year's tornado. The school district is asking for a $62 million bond issue to help pay for rebuilding five schools. (Charlie Riedel ~ Associated Press)

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Some Joplin residents say the school district's request for a $62 million bond issue this spring has raised questions about millions of dollars in donations received after five schools were destroyed and several others damaged in last May's devastating tornado.

Superintendent C.J. Huff said that while the district appreciates all the donations it's received, there is not nearly enough to rebuild the 600,000 square feet of educational space lost in the May 22 tornado that also killed 161 people.

Residents will vote April 3 on the bond issue, part of the district's $185 million initiative to rebuild destroyed buildings, install tornado shelters and improve and repair other schools. About $121 million is money the district has from insurance settlements or expects from state and federal sources, The Joplin Globe reported.

"That's the big concern we keep hearing over and over," Joplin resident Virginia Denham said during a recent community meeting on the preliminary design of the new Joplin High School. "They have supposedly collected so much money, so why are they needing the bond issue?"

Huff said the belief that the district has received tens of millions of dollars to rebuild is a misperception.

"If that had been case, we wouldn't be asking for a bond issue," Huff said. "We hope to reduce the bond issue number, and we're working at filling the gap by continuing to seek donation opportunities that might be out there."

The district's latest reports show it has received about $4.48 million in contributions for its Tornado Relief, Bright Futures and Joplin Schools Foundation funds. The district also has a $1 million pledge from an anonymous donor and a $100,000 pledge from Target Corp., although that money has not been collected and is not included in the $4.48 million total.

The Tornado Relief Fund is for staff, students and their families who were affected by the tornado.

The fund's money is used for food, clothing, shelter, after-school care, school supplies, classroom materials and student transportation, according to district officials. The Tornado Relief Fund has received $511,838 and the district has spent about $135,140.

Four Bright Futures funds have received a total of $1.1 million since the storm. The funds include the Bright Futures General Fund, Adopt-a-Classroom, Adopt-an-Eagle and the Eagle Angel Fund. About $633,890 has been spent from the funds.

Huff said Bright Futures, which was started before the tornado, is the district's mechanism for meeting immediate needs of families, through things such as clothing and housewares. Some of the funds are for students who were not affected by the tornado.

The Tornado Relief Foundation, a separate not-for-profit, has its own board of directors and bylaws. The foundation has received about $2.8 million in earmarked donations and has spent about $1.4 million.

Of the remaining money, $770,049 is earmarked for needs other than construction, according to school officials. That leaves $680,544 that the district plans to combine with the $1.1 million from the anonymous donor and Target and dedicate to rebuilding.

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