Three Rivers board votes to cut ties with foundation

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- After years of an increasingly contentious relationship, Three Rivers College Board of Trustees voted 5-1 Monday to disassociate itself from one of its oldest supporting entities.

"It is my opinion that this board has no alternative but to sever all ties with Three Rivers College Foundation, and urge the Foundation to disband considering the fact that it is no longer serving the purpose for which it was created," board chairman Randy Winston said in a prepared statement made before the motion.

The motion was seconded by Darren Garrison and passed during the monthly meeting without comment by other trustees.

Trustee Ben Ressel was the sole dissenting vote. He said after the meeting he supports Three Rivers' board 100 percent and knows other members have dealt with this issue a lot longer than he has, but disagreed with the timing and some of the logistics of the decision.

Members of the foundation expressed shock Monday afternoon when told of the motion, saying they had no warning the matter would come before trustees.

Foundation executive director Judy Scott said the move obliterates a portion of Three Rivers' past and will alienate a generation of people. The Foundation will proceed as it has and will retain the title to the E.K. Porter Building, she said. When asked if the foundation would allow college operations to continue from the center, she said, "Absolutely. Of course we will."

President Dr. Devin Stephenson said the college has contingency plans in place if it has to move from the Porter Building. It is the college's desire to have title to the building, he said.

Stephenson said he is uncertain what the next steps will be regarding property or scholarships held by the foundation. It is the preference of trustees that all future donations to the college be given to Three Rivers Endowment Trust, he said.

Both sides blame the other in a relationship that has shown many signs of deterioration in recent years.

Scott believes problems began when Stephenson became president of Three Rivers and was denied a position on the organization's board.

"No president has ever been a member of the board," said Scott, adding the foundation has never been controlled by the president of the college and will not be now.

In a separate statement, foundation board chairman John Stanard said, "The Foundation, chartered in 1989 and guided since that time by some of Poplar Bluff's most prominent and respected citizens, never was intended to be an arm of the college administration."

Scott believes the organization has cooperated in every way with the college and provided all documents requested.

Stephenson said problems existed before his arrival. Questions being asked of the foundation are standard and should have been asked from the beginning, he continued.

Upon his arrival, Stephenson indicated he wanted to help the college renew its relationship with the foundation, Winston said. This failed, he said, as did attempts by trustees Phil Davis and Garrison to reach a compromise shortly after they were elected and a mediation arranged about six months ago by the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce president Steve Halter.

The foundation has not provided information regarding endowed scholarship fund balances, scholarship awards or any reports of any kind for the past two years, Winston said. Stephenson said other information, including the salaries made by paid employees of the foundation, has also been withheld.

College leaders further believe the foundation has acted outside the intention of the benefactor Kay Porter, who provided the funding for the purchase of property and construction of the E.K. Porter Distance Learning Center. The foundation still holds the title to the center, without a long-term lease in place.

The college contributes about $100,000 annually to utility and maintenance costs of the building, according to Stephenson. The Porter building houses the testing center, technology services for the entire campus, 11 full-time Three Rivers employees, seven classrooms that provide instruction to other sites through interactive television and two classrooms used by Southeast Missouri State University and Central Methodist University.

Three Rivers reports it has received scholarship money from the foundation totaling approximately $9,900 in 2007-2008, $6,900 in 2008-2009, $2,000 in 2009-2010, and $1,400 in 2010-2011. Information from the 2010 college audit shows net assets for the foundation at almost $4.2 million, total revenue of about $85,000 and expenses of nearly $150,000.

The foundation's failure to provide information to the college concerning who is receiving scholarships, and how much, could put Three Rivers out of compliance with Title IV, Winston said. Pell grant money is only supposed to be distributed after all scholarship funds. Without that information from the foundation, Three Rivers could wrongly provide a full grant to someone who also had scholarship money, he said.

Scott said the foundation used to provide scholarships to Three Rivers, which then paid the student. The college stopped that and money is given directly to the student now, with a list then provided to Three Rivers, according to Scott.

The foundation gave about $3,000 in scholarships in the spring of 2012, Scott said. She said Monday evening she would be unable to provide further financial information Tuesday.

Scott said Stephenson does not return phone calls, while Winston says trustees and administrators have not been invited to a Foundation board meeting in three years.

Both organizations have indicated legal action may be the only way to resolve their differences.

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