February 10, 2013

Band endowment strikes sour note between Fairfield Town Council, school officials

Council's active oversight, desire to build up William Crawford Perpetual Music Fund irks Lawrence High officials, who wants town out of decision-making

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- Sixty years ago, William Crawford created a fund in his will to ensure that the town's high school band would have added financial support, forever.

click image to enlarge

The Lawrence High School pep band performs during warmups before the Lawrence-Skowhegan boys' basketball game in Fairfield Tuesday night.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

The Lawrence High School pep band performs during warmups before the Lawrence-Skowhegan boys' basketball game in Fairfield Tuesday night.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seaman

Additional Photos Below

Today, Lawrence High School administrators and the Fairfield Town Council, named in 1953 as the fund trustee, are not in harmony about how the money is spent.

"At that time, the governance was such that the local school would be part of the municipal government and the town would be the logical entity to receive any monies for the school," said Stewart Kinley, a board member of Fairfield-based School Administrative District 49.

But long after the will was written, the high school was absorbed into the same district as schools in Albion, Benton and Clinton.

"No longer does the Town Council have anything to do with the schools," Kinley said.

Except when it comes to the William Crawford Perpetual Music Fund.

The school and the council have disagreed over whether reducing program funding will hurt the band's 88 students.

Because of this, the town has been increasingly involved in the details of the program, with some councilors asking for each individual expense to be submitted for approval, rather than signing off on categories of expenses.

Councilor Robert Sezak said the fund exists to support the band, not the school's music department.

"It's our discretion on how to use the money and how much to spend," he said.

Kinley said the Town Council is not tasked with tracking the band's individual budget line items.

"It's actually the responsibility of the school board to determine where the money is spent," Kinley said. "That comes from state law. We are responsible for the education program."

Fund balancing act

The fund balance, which was $214,000 when the will came into effect in 1977, has grown to $952,000.

Crawford's will specifies that the town should "invest and reinvest" the fund, and "to hold the same perpetually."

"We did have differences of opinion about how to interpret the will," said Councilor Harold "Jim" Murray. "It means growth to me."

Murray and other council members say the fund's principal balance must grow at the rate of inflation to preserve its purchasing power for future generations of students.

By their calculations, the balance should be about $1,350,000, not $952,000, according to a town report.

The council passed a policy in October limiting disbursements to 90 percent of the fund's income, which led to the council setting a cap of $20,000 for the upcoming year's disbursements, far less than the $35,000 given in recent years.

Kinley agrees that adding some amount to the principal is prudent, but said the will leaves the council with some leeway.

The council policy ties disbursements to the fund's annual income, which fluctuates wildly from year to year. In three of the last 11 years, the fund lost money, while in 2011, it earned $80,000.

Murray said that, in a new uncertain economic era, the policy is necessary, but Kinley said it's difficult to budget based on stock market swings.

Salaries and stipends

Predictably, the town and the school differ on what bills should be paid from the fund, instead of the district.

The school pays for all of the music instructor salaries, and $11,100 for five instructor stipends within the school's five distinct bands, Superintendent Dean Baker said.

Two other stipends, which cost a total of about $4,000, are paid by the Crawford fund. The fund also pays $700 for a drill designer, which the district considers to be a service, not a stipend.

Kinley said the stipends aren't cushy luxuries for the band instructors, who he estimated earn far less than $5 per hour for their efforts. The impact of cutting stipends, he said, would be quick and brutal.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

The Lawrence High School pep band performs during warmups before the Lawrence-Skowhegan boys' basketball game in Fairfield Tuesday night.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seaman

  


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