Although there have been public accusations alleging a contentious relationship between Dothan City Schools administrators and the Dothan High Wolfpack Band Boosters organization, Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Edwards said Thursday there is “no bad blood.”
The controversy started in the middle of 2019 when Edwards asked Chief Operations Officer Dennis Coe and then Chief Financial Officer Mike Manuel to create a policy for school-related organizations to be aligned with current state laws.
The proposed policy, which was updated before school board approval, would have moved funds of several school-affiliated organizations under the purview of the school system for oversight and be subject to the school system’s annual audit.
When band and athletic boosters pushed back against the policy, officials introduced a revised policy with an exception that if organizations don’t come under the system’s supervision, they must become a nonprofit entity, gaining 501(c)(3) status, provide for an annual audit, and obtain a fidelity bond for its treasurer.
The resolution, with a provision set to go into effect on Aug. 1, was passed by school board in a 5-to-1 vote with board member Chris Maddox dissenting.
The Dothan High band boosters had already complied with most of the requirements and applied for a fidelity bond, but requested clarification about the audit around June.
Band booster president Dedra Garrey said she was under the impression the audit would not need to be performed until the fiscal year following the Aug. 1 deadline and that professional audits cost roughly $8,000.
“We knew that this was going to be an incredible financial burden on our booster club that would impact our ability to provide for the kids,” Garrey said in a statement posted on the club’s Facebook page.
Garrey said she received communication from current Chief Financial Officer Stephanie Walker that all requirements needed to be met by the August deadline or the group would be asked to close all accounts and transfer ownership to Dothan City Schools.
“We had reached out to everyone that we knew to talk to about this. Our responsibility at this point was to safeguard the assets of the organization to preserve what has been worked for over many years’ time to benefit the students of our band,” Garrey said.
Edwards said Thursday the band boosters sent an email to Dothan High School Principal Bill Singleton about their intent to turn their organization into a foundation that would function differently, giving scholarships and grants to band students rather than covering more than half of the band’s annual operating expenses.
In the last fiscal year, boosters contributed just over half of the band program’s budget, committing $41,000 to the school system’s $40,000.
“Make no mistake -- the easiest thing to do would have been to dissolve the organization, disperse the funds as required by law, and go about our lives,” Garrey said on Facebook.
“None of us wanted to do that. We had made a commitment and were determined to see it through. These funds have been too hard fought for and many parents over the years have committed to working with us side by side in support of these students. We feel strongly that standing by our mission statement is the right thing to do.”
Within a week or so of the email to Singleton, band booster members took equipment from the band room, trailers, and a lawnmower from the high school campus. The items were valued at around $100,000.
“When the stuff was missing, I didn’t act unilaterally. I went to the board,” Edwards said.
Singleton filed a police report alleging members had stolen school property, but a police investigation could not prove that any criminal activity had taken place.
Edwards contends that two of the trailers taken were in existence before consolidation of the high school campuses, but Garrey said all of the property removed was bought, registered, insured, and maintained by the booster organization.
The legal matter is not squashed. The club’s attorney and the school board’s attorney are still in discussion about next steps. Edwards did not comment about ongoing legal or civil action taking place.
She said she believed monies raised in the name of Dothan High’s band program should remain with the band program.
“With all that I’ve been doing, why would I want to cause any kind of issue with any kind of organization? I have to follow board policy,” Edwards said.
Edwards said she has tried to work with the boosters in the past, requesting financial assistance when buying the band new uniforms. The uniforms cost $80,000 and she asked boosters to help with $30,000 of the cost, but the organization refused to help.
She said there have been rumors that administration wanted to use funds raised by band boosters to help with athletics, but that’s not true. The school system paid less than $40,000 for athletics uniforms during the same time.
“We certainly would like to have cooperation. It’s been very one-sided and very directed at me personally,” Edwards said. “How this became about me, I don’t know. That’s not fair to do to anyone. I have no reason for any strife to be between myself and the booster organization. The board policy was put in place eight months ago. We have to make sure that someone is monitoring them. That’s the bottom line.”
Concerning recent reports that the school would only be providing one water bottle to each band member during games, Edwards said Chick-Fil-A is providing meals for them during the first two football games of the season and snacks, water, and sodas will also be provided.
“They’re going to be fed and be provided water. We’re not going to let the kids go without,” she said.
The Wolfpack Band Boosters have recently been notified by Walker that it would not need a full professional audit that could cost $10,000, but a cheaper audit that is less robust.
“I’m hopeful once they get their things done, there will be an opportunity to meet with the principal and band director who gives direction for the band,” Edwards said. “The board nor myself are trying to say booster clubs don’t work hard, and all of that is appreciated.”
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