Thursday, March 23, 2017

Yost on Say Yes Money in the Caymen Islands, Outsized Investment Returns and the School Board's Pat Tillman lying about it

"The financial shortfall that has caused a major setback for the Say Yes Guilford scholarship program is raising a slew of questions regarding the group's financial models, transparency, decision-making structure and the viability of applying its core philosophy in Guilford County.

Say Yes Guilford is facing a large funding shortage in its first year, which is drawing attention to the financial situation of the organization.  Say Yes Guilford has kept much of that information close to the vest so far, however, there are some numbers available for the national Say Yes to Education organization, which is working with Guilford County on the initiative.   The numbers come from the IRS 990 form required for large nonprofit organizations.

Which we reported on last year

At the end of 2014, Say Yes national had net assets of $50.5 million, of which $32.3 million were held in the Caymen Islands and just over $5 million in Bermuda.  The Schedule F attachment to the 990 form, which is the "Statement of Activities Outside the United States," lists the $32.3 million held in the Caymen Islands as an investment in "Weiss Multi-strategy."  The attachment to the 990 form states that the $5 million in Bermuda is "business reinsurance" and it is listed as "Investment in Weisshorn RE LTD."

Which we reported last year

...Say Yes Guilford projected a needed endowment of about $70 million to make the program sustainable, but it's now estimated that it would actually require roughly $550 million to meet Say Yes' needs for the county's college-bound students on an ongoing basis.  In light of that tremendous discrepancy, this week Say Yes Guilford leadership is attempting to regroup and find a way forward.
Jacques Steinberg, a Say Yes spokesman, stated that the national group is working with the Guilford County chapter to resolve the current issues.

...behind the scenes, there's a great deal of handwringing and discontent.  Some believe the program can be saved, while others argue that, given the harsh reality of the numbers - combined with the giant promises of the program - any new version of Say Yes will merely be a "shell of its former self."

...There are varying accounts as to who's responsible for the terribly askew projections, but it's safe to say, as one Guilford County commissioner said this week, there is "plenty of blame to go around."

...When the Rhino Times requested the current 990 form for the local group, Say Yes Guilford, Donnie Turlington, the communications director for Say Yes Guilford, wrote in an email, "It's my understanding that the Say Yes Guilford 990 requirement is covered under the 990 for the national organization."

Steinberg wrote in an email, on behalf of the national Say Yes group, that Say Yes Guilford was an affiliate of Say Yes to Education, but added that part of the program - the Say Yes Guilford Scholarship Board - operates as a separate entity that first awarded scholarships in 2016.

"As an independent 501(c)(3), it has the responsibility for filing its own tax forms," Steinberg wrote.
When Steinberg was asked about a more recent 990 form for the national Say Yes organization than the one for 2014, he wrote, "The most recent 990 publicly available on the Website Guidestar for Say Yes to Education is for the 2014 tax year."

...In 2014, Say Yes President Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey had a total annual compensation of $418,097.  That included a salary of $350,000, another $23,400 in "retirement and other deferred compensation," $24,697 in "nontaxable benefits" and a bonus of $20,000.

Say Yes Chief Operating Officer Gene Chasin had a salary of $265,000 in 2014 and a total compensation package of $334,300, while Steinberg had a total compensation package of $303,692.  Chief Development Officer Roger Edgar's annual package amounted to $262,524.

The 990 form only requires the disclosure of the compensation for the highest paid employees, so salary information for others in the Say Yes organization isn't publicly available.

Say Yes got $4.1 million in total grants and contributions that year and earned $13.4 million from investment income, which is very high given that the group began the year with $35.6 million in investments.

Which we reported on last year

Just over $802,000 of that money was invested in "publicly traded securities" with the rest in "other securities," primarily in an investment fund run by Weiss based out of the Cayman Islands and another investment in Bermuda.

When the Rhino Times asked Turlington the reason the national organization keeps the bulk of its funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, he said that was a question best directed to the national office.

The national Say Yes organization has not yet responded to that question.

As for Say Yes Guilford, one thing that has been a source of contention in recent months is the inability of local officials and other interested parties to get hard numbers from the group.  Say Yes Guilford has disclosed that it has $42 million in "pledges and commitments."  However, it will not disclose how much of those pledges and commitments is actually money that the group currently has in hand - though Say Yes officials have stated that the money will come in over a period of roughly five years.

Which we reported last year

It should be kept in mind that those commitments were to a program that promised scholarships for families of all incomes, so it's possible some donors will rethink their pledges in light of changes.

Turlington did say that the Say Yes Guilford funds are managed by Diversified Trust in Greensboro and he added that the Say Yes Guilford bank account is with the Bank of North Carolina.

Diversified Trust is a wealth management firm with offices in Memphis, Atlanta, Nashville and Greensboro, with the Greensboro office at 300 N. Greene St... officials - not to mention many others - are waiting to see what Say Yes announces, but right now they don't have much more information than anyone else.  Guilford County Board of Education member Pat Tillman said he only learned about the group's troubles when he read the story in the Rhino Times on Thursday, March 9.

"I found out about it when I read your article," Tillman said.

He said one source of frustration is the fact that the Guilford County school board has authority to decide school matters but virtually no say when it comes to Say Yes.

"We don't have any jurisdiction over the program," Tillman said.  "It's a strange dynamic - outside of our kids, we don't have any oversight.  It's a private sort of charitable thing and, unfortunately, we don't have any power over it."

Tillman said there are a lot of things he wants to find out in the coming weeks.

"We know the basics of Say Yes but we have a lot more questions," he said.  "For instance, how were they that far off?  It's unfortunate when you see the math - six times difference.  As a school board member, that's concerning."

...The wait for the public release of information from the group is nothing new: It is something that's continued from last year.

At a large Say Yes Guilford meeting at the Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown on Nov. 14 - Schmitt-Carey, the president of the national Say Yes organization, said, "Local and national offices continue to work with our colleges and universities on this year's disbursements and we anticipate having final numbers later this year [2016], or in January, regarding the number of scholarships rewarded and the specific dollar amounts."

At that same meeting, another Say Yes official said,  "We will be announcing full details about the distributions in the near future."