The Flagler Education Foundation, the non-profit support arm of the school district, ended its last fiscal year with a 70 percent increase in revenue over the previous year, bringing in a total of $675,000, up from $396,000 in 2017.
The foundation is behind substantial scholarship programs, including Take Stock In Children, which underwrites college tuition for students,support for the district’s numerous flagship programs–the career-specific, hands-on educational programs now extant in all the schools–and so-called “mini-grants” to teachers across the district.
The foundation generated $372,000 in public and corporate contributions, an 83 percent increase over the sum collected the previous year and 143 percent more than in 2016. The foundation’s event-fundraising increased by 56 percent, and state grants revenue by 57 percent. Investment income nearly doubled, from $46,700 to $81,500.
It did so with a staff of three led by Joe Rizzo, hired in February 2017 away from his Woody’s BBQ restaurant at Flagler Plaza in a move that appears to have vindicated the foundation board’s decision.
“We did have a good year, and we’re going to have a better one this year,” Rizzo said. “All I do really is bring awareness and connect people to the school district. I’m not doing anything special.”
Rizzo spoke as if the school district sells itself to donors once donors learn of its offerings, starting with the flagship programs. “I think it’s one of those things if you just let people know how good the teachers and the programs and the teachers in Flagler County schools are, people will get buy in,” he said.
His own son, Joseph, is illustrative of the flagship’s sense of excitement: Joseph used to not be too excited about going to school. He enrolled in Flagler Palm Coast High School’s Hangar Program, the aviation-related academy taught by Hillary Stevens of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University that, by the time students graduate, provides students with the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in university-level education. Since joining, Joseph has been coming home excited just to talk about what he’s done in school.
“That just kind of shows you the passion it brings out,” Rizzo said. It carries over to parental reactions about the programs. “The testimonials are insane,” he said.
The Take Stock in Children Program, Rizzo said, was just awarded two state performance awards. The program matches students with mentors. When the students complete the program, they become eligible for college tuition. Foundation money is matched with state money, providing tuition for two to four years. In 2018, the program provided $67,000 in scholarships. The program has shepherded more than 200 students through college since its inception in 2000.
The school board examined the Education Foundation’s audit on Tuesday (Oct. 4).
Overall, the foundation’s bottom line ended with $2.7 million, up from $2.5 million the previous year: While revenue increased substantially, so have expenses, going from $395,000 in 2017 to $630,000, a 106 percent increase.
The increase is due in part to the foundation hiring a third staffer, Shelley Wheeler, to to run the day-to-day operations, keep up with the donors database, plan events, and deal with the minutiae of the office, as Rizzo describes it.
Rizzo himself was paid $55,000 a year when he was hired, with the understanding that there would be bonuses, based on his performance. There’s been no bonuses so far, but his contract is being re-written and will reflect a substantial pay raise that will put him in line within the range of salaries school district directors earn. Those salaries from from the upper $60,000 range to the low six figures, though he doesn’t expect to be in the six-figure category.
“I don’t see our percentage of what it costs to run the operation changing at all, which if you’re a donor, that’s what you really want,” he said, placing the administrative costs of the foundation at around 17 percent. (The audit lists “general and administrative support services” at $189,000, or 28 percent of operating revenue.)
Salaries and benefits are not all paid by the foundation. For Rebecca Bower, who coordinates the Take Stock in Children program, for example, part of her salary is underwritten by the state’s portion of the grant. Twelve percent of Rizzo’s salary and his benefits are paid for by the district, as are Wheeler’s benefits.
“Then of course we spend money to raise money,” Rizzo said, with several fund-raising events such as the foundation’s annual banquet, its Josh Crews Gala, a golf tournament and others.
Revenue was strong, but the auditors–the James Moore firm of Daytona Beach–noted: “Charitable giving continues to be significantly affected by many factors including the general state of the economy, the health of the stock market and prospective donors’ perception of the benefiting organization. Toward this latter factor, the Foundation has historically enjoyed a very positive reputation in the communities it serves. While economic factors do ultimately affect charitable giving in general, the Foundation has a developed a history of steady growth regardless of changes in these factors.”