June 28, 2019; Martinsville Bulletin
Sometimes, entities that are kind of forced to play with one another rebel, and then it’s all about who did what to whom.
On June 27, 2019, the New College Institute (NCI) held its quarterly board meeting in Martinsville, Virginia. Its relationship with its support foundation doesn’t appear to have improved much since reports this spring. Moreover, it’s difficult to ascertain if the inclusion of copies of petulant communications between the institute and the foundation concerning technology upgrades among other issues in the board packet was meant to explain the situation or inflame it.
New College Foundation (NCF) is a single-organization support foundation with assets of $19 million, created to support NCI, “a Virginia public body constituted by statute as a governmental instrumentality for the dissemination of education.” Despite being created to offer the school support, the relationship between the two was described by NCI’s board chair, State Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County, as “strained, to say the least.”
NCI is a tenant in the Foundation’s building, and the board packet included a registered letter from the Virginia Department of General Services (VDGS) that states the Foundation has not met a request for updated computer equipment and that NCI would proceed to bill the Foundation. Deborah Kaufman, the executive director of the Foundation, wrote a letter of her own that disagreed with the argument that the rental agreement covered the computer systems.
Correspondence written from early September 2018 through March 2019 details the alleged failure of the Foundation to maintain the building and upgrade its technology. The Foundation informed the VDGS and NCI that it would put all funding requests, along with the funding to replace the computers, on hold “until after the building purchase matter with the commonwealth is resolved.”
In March, State Sen. Stanley said no one from the Foundation attends NCI meetings— Kaufman countered by saying they attend “when invited”—and that the Foundation did not provide funds for most of their requests, with the exception of restricted program funding from Appalachian Electric Power. Kaufman disputed these charges in her letter of June 21:
New College Institute submitted a funding request for technology upgrades in amount of $55,169.48, which the foundation board acted on at its April 17, 2019, meeting. It was communicated by NCI’s executive director that the matter was not an emergency. The board decided to table the request until the building purchase issue is resolved.
Kaufman went on to say that the building’s systems, everything from plumbing to security cameras, do work, and that they’ve had vendors fix issues as they came up. She claims NCI and the Department of General Services were forcing a funding proposal by “claiming a lease violation.”
Returning to the events of the June board meeting, a new interim executive director of NCI was approved—Karen R. Jackson, once the Virginia secretary of technology. In announcing her appointment, Stanley said, “We have found Babe Ruth.” State Sen. Stanley proposed Jackson’s appointment for interim, and no search was conducted.
“She has been the leader in the Virginia advancement of internet technology, cyber, broadband access in rural and underserved areas, and was an integral part of Virginia’s effort to land Amazon’s HQ2,” Stanley said in the release announcing her appointment.
And, on the matter of the head-butting with the Foundation, the state of Virginia has determined that the cost of the technology upgrade would be covered by a few months of NCI not having to pay rent for the space it occupies in the Foundation building. No action has been taken yet to calm or repair the acrimony between NCI and the NCF.
In her acceptance of the interim position, Jackson stated:
I also want to make sure that we’re a good regional partner, and looking at the other assets that are here and finding a way for us all to collaborate together. At the end of the day, it’s about getting good people good jobs. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what everybody in this space is trying to do. I think NCI can be a good partner in that. I think that’s something we need to invest time in, we need to see what the opportunities are, and we need to make it happen.
Perhaps Jackson can use her desire to be a good partner to find a way to get NCI, the NCF, and the state of Virginia working together.—Marian Conway