Common Ground Board of Directors Minutes: May 2020

**Please click here for an audio recording of this meeting**

New Haven Ecology Project

Board Meeting Agenda

May 26th

Board Members Present: 

Errol Saunders, Monica Maccera-Filppu, Bob Parker, Beth Klingher, Michael Doolittle, Deloris Vaughn, Brian Springsteen, Kyeen Andersson, Babz Rawz-Ivy (6:44)

Staff Members Present: 

Kimball Cartwright, Rebecca Holcombe, Betsy Sneath, Liz Cox, Deborah Greig, Joel Tolman, Chris Cane, Tara Cote, Cjet Raymond, Emily Schmidt



  • Welcome 


      1. Meeting was called to order at 5:34pm


  • There was no Public Participation at this meeting (5:35pm) 
  • Business Requiring Approval (5:36pm)                    


      1. Minutes of the April 27th meeting Kyeen Andersson moved and Mike Doolittle seconded. Unanimously approved with the correction that the minutes should reflect that Kyeen Andersson was present. 
      2. Healthy Food and Food Exemptions Resolutions: Beth Klingher moved, Kyeen Andersson seconded. The motion was unanimously approved.  
        1. Be it resolved that: Pursuant to C.G.S. Section 10-215f, the board of education or governing authority certifies that all food items offered for sale to students in the schools under its jurisdiction, and not exempted from the Connecticut Nutrition Standards published by the Connecticut State Department of Education, will comply with the Connecticut Nutrition Standards during the period of July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020. This certification shall include all food offered for sale to students separately from reimbursable meals at all times and from all sources, including but not limited to, school stores, vending machines, school cafeterias, and any fundraising activities on school premises sponsored by the school or by non-school organizations and groups.
        2. Be it resolved that: The Board of Education of Common Ground High School will allow the sale to students of food items that do not meet the Connecticut Nutrition Standards provided that the following conditions are met: 1) the sale is in connection with an event occurring after the end of the regular school day or on the weekend; 2) the sale is at the location of the event; and 3) the food items are not sold from a vending machine or school store.
          1. NOTE:  An “event” is an occurrence that involves more than just a regularly scheduled practice, meeting, or extracurricular activity. For example, soccer games, school plays, and interscholastic debates are events but soccer practices, play rehearsals, and debate team meetings are not. The “regular school day” is the period from midnight before to 30 minutes after the end of the official school day. “Location” means where the event is being held.
      3. Invoices Needing Approval. Michael Doolittle moved to pay all of the invoices needing approval, Beth Klingher seconded. The motion to pay all of the invoices passed unanimously. 
        1. Annual Rent payment to the city of New Haven: $20,000
        2. Rock 2 Rock invoices to participating partner organizations; note there will be additional payments to organizing partners once accounting for Rock to Rock is finalized.
        3. CitySeed: $5,157.57
        4. Massaro Community Farm: $18,445.96


  • Executive Director Report (5:42pm): Monica Maccera-Filppu set context for consideration of next year’s budget and program plans. Uncertainty still exists. We have new guidance for summer camp and summer school. We do not yet have guidance for the fall, but need to begin planning in order to be ready. COVID-19 is the context, but are moving back to a board meeting structure where we highlight and discuss one important area of our work. 
  • Organizational Update (5:44)


      1. Rebecca Holcombe presented an update on Community Programs.
        1. Spring recap: We lost the opportunity to bring in $148,000 in revenue for spring programs this fall. We have 19 part-time employees who are furloughed at the moment, with no return dates. We are sending out Nature Notes, getting over 4,000 opens a week; Robyn, who leads our schoolyards team, is wrapping up contracts at two New Haven magnet K-8 schools.
        2. Summer: Planning to move forward with a small camp for about 60 children. We have been looking closely at all the guidance from the Office of Childhood Education, and feel confident about moving forward. This will allow us to continue to employ our full-time staff, and bring back some part-time staff. Camp will break even, but will not generate net revenue for the organization. We considered not running camp, because of the risks, but decided that this was an important way to serve our community and meet our mission. This is the time to build capacity that will serve us in the future.
        3. Fall: We don’t yet have health guidelines for the Fall. We would love to be able to work directly with NHPS, and go into their schools, to do outdoor learning, on a contractual basis. Health guidelines may not allow outside contractors to operate in schools. We would also love to reach into the emergency child care gap — filling the gaps created by a hybrid model in local schools. We are pursuing licensure. One obstacle: We will need to operate these programs based on tuition that comes from the programs. This creates a fundraising need, to make it possible for low-income families to participate. 
          1. Errol Saunders expressed pride in this work, and asked if Common Ground had explored the use of Title I funds to meet the educational needs of students under our care. Rebecca is interested in learning more about this option; she is also exploring funding through the CT CARES Act, which would need to be expanded to fund school aged child care and extended to meet this timeline. 
          2. Kyeen Andersson explained that, through June, the child care center at the Yale Medical School has been serving the needs of essential workers, and has had to expand to include school-age children because there aren’t other options. 
          3. Kyeen Andersson also asked if there are ways that we are going beyond state guidelines. The guidelines emphasize that outdoor experiences are better because they lower transmission date; summer camp will take place entirely outside, except in the case of thunderstorms. Based on survey results of already registered families, there is more than sufficient demand to fill these 60 spaces. The camp will run only as a 6-week ecology camp. 
          4. Michael Doolittle asked about how the furloughed workers are doing. Financially, these staff are earning more through unemployment benefits than they would be by working at Common Ground. How they are doing mentally and personally is variable. 
          5. Brian Springstein asked if there were any expressed concerns about coming back to work. Rebecca Holcombe answered that there are people who are in many different emotional places about coming back to work but for lots of different reasons. 
          6. Beth Klingher asked about how camp will respond if an outbreak occurs. Rebecca explained that groups will be intact groups of 10 campers and 2 staff. There is no interaction among these intact groups. If a case is reported, we will report that to public health authorities, and they will likely advise us to quarantine that group for 14 days. Camp policies — refunds, etc. – align with that.
          7. Emily Schmidt asked whether there will be Green Jobs Corps members working in camp. Rebecca explained that she doesn’t want to incentivize low income young people to work in a context with kids who aren’t wearing masks. Might take 16-18 year old volunteers. 
          8. Kyeen Andersson asked how we will deal with potential staff absences. We will have one floater. Staff will get paid for absences, so as not to incentivize coming to work sick. 
          9. Errol Saunders asked about whether quarantines are built into the summer camp budget. Rebecca Holcombe explained that they are not.
          10. Monica Maccera-Filppu explained that, during this summer, all part of Common Ground programs will run at a small scale: Green Jobs Corps, farm work, summer school, and summer camp.
      2. How are we celebrating our Seniors (6:12 pm)
        1. Liz Cox has appointed a team of staff to work on making senior celebrations happen. The plans that that team is working on have been developed in coordination with what the seniors themselves have asked for. 
          1. For the ceremony, the team is working with Travis Carbonella to create a senior video to capture the spirit of the place without the full in-place ceremony. 
          2. On campus moment: After consulting with local public health officials, each senior and their family will come to campus, walk across an outdoor stage, pick up their diploma, all on video. When they are on campus, they will receive a gift basket. 
          3. Story collecting: Seniors will also record their own stories about the pandemic and Travis will incorporate them into the senior video.
          4. Speeches: We will have student and staff speeches. We are asking all of our staff to send shout-outs to our seniors, as well. 
          5. Reaching out:Our team divided the senior class to reach out to them by phone; families are really excited about this. 
      3. Recent Press Coverage of Common Ground (6:17)
        1. Common Ground earns a 2020 Above and Beyond Award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
        2. How Common Ground High School Supports Students and the Community During the Pandemic (U.S. Green Building Council/Center for Green Schools)


  • Finance Committee Report (6:17)


    1. Budget vs Actuals as of April 30th: Beth Klingher reported that we are 10 months into the year, and expect to end the year flat or potentially a little under budget. 
    2. Days of Cash on hand visual: Beth Klingher reported that we are in a good cash on hand position. 
    3. Discussion of SY 2020-2021 Budget: proposed direction
        1. Notes for discussion: Monica Maccera-Filppu explained that benefits and salaries for staff came up in her initial conversations with board members as she was accepting the position as ED. This has been an ongoing conversation ever since: How can we improve salaries, benefits, and the overall work experience at Common Ground? We completed a salary study that normed teacher salaries against New Haven Public Schools, and nonprofit salaries against relevant nonprofit norms. We agreed to work toward the goal of parity over three years. Because NHPS is in the last year of its contract, our 3-year goals are based on the current contract plus a 2.5% adjustment per year. The aspirational budget includes the first year of these salary increases, and also some additional investments and adjustments in high school leadership. We also want to build a reserve.   
        2. Proposed Budget: The budget shared with the finance committee is based on several assumptions: (1) We will be able to get forgiveness on our $800,000 PPP loan, which will give us liquid assets. (2) We will use those liquid assets to fill the gap created by a loss of net community programs revenue. (3) We will increase our development goal by approximately $150,000 to cover additional expenses. We are investing additional resources in development, in part through a consultant, alongside the board’s growing commitment. We are hopeful that we can move forward with the aspirational budget, and still put money into a reserve. This is where we hoped to be in March before COVID hit; we are now ready to invite staff feedback. We are going to ask to move the June board meeting to June 29th, so that we can be confident that we have submitted the paperwork for PPP loan forgiveness. 
          1. Kyeen Andersson asked about whether the proposed budget insulates us against potential losses of revenue that result in spikes in COVID this fall/winter/spring. Monica explains that there is still an assumption of revenue to pay for current full-time staff, and that we are optimistic about this. 
          2. Michael Doolittle asked about Monica’s recent research on benefits. Monica explained that we are moving to a benefit plan that uses a PEO. That partnership will mitigate the tremendous liability for compliance. It will also allow us to show staff their time off accrued, etc. Benefits package will be much better: Common Ground will still be able fund 80% of benefits, staff will pay lower premiums, and Common Ground will experience significant savings overall.
          3. Kyeen Andersson asked whether we can get any discounts on liability insurance because we are operating programs at a smaller scale. Betsy Sneath is looking into potential reductions in premiums for next year.  
        3. Proposed 2020-2021 Teacher Pay Scale
        4. Proposed 2020-2023 Support Educator Pay Scale



    1. Kimball Cartwright directed board members to the May development committee report.
      1. Babz Rawls-Ivy asked for 3-5 sentences on why each board member loves Common Ground; Kimball requested that board members respond to this call!
      2. Board members are working on a case statement; they will share a draft this week, and are looking for feedback.
      3. Kimball Cartwright also shared more details on plans to work with a consultant on building our major gifts program. This will include work with board members. 
      4. Beth Klingher shared that the Feast committee had its first meeting; they will share plans for what Feast will look like at the next board meeting. We are still looking for Feast sponsors; Beth asked board members for help in identifying prospects. Beth also asked for ideas on additional Feast committee members. 
      5. Deloris Vaughn encouraged board members to read the article that she shared on behalf of the development committee. 
      6. Babz Rawls-Ivy requested that board members follow up with her about their stories for why they are involved in common Ground. 
      7. Kyeen Andersson asked about the increase in individual giving from the 19-20 combined to 20-21 combined draft budget. Kimball Cartwright explained that this represents a shift from a foundation-dependent strategy to an individual-focused strategy. 
      8. Babz Rawls-Ivy explained that we are continuing to think about people who want to advise and invest in our development efforts, without joining the board. The social aspect of this work will need to shift in the context of COVID.
  1. New Business (6:53)
    1. Monica Maccera-Filppu and Betsy Sneath requested that we move the June Board meeting to Monday, June 29th at 5:30 pm to ensure most accurate information before voting on budget. Bob Parker requested that we update the website to reflect that change.                            
  2. Adjourn (6:56)
    1. Brian Springstein moved to adjourn and Kyeen Andersson seconded. The motion unanimously passes. 

Next Meeting: Monday, June 29th 5:30 pm


Public Participation: 

In order to comply with adjusted Connecticut Open Meeting laws, any member of the public wishing to participate in the meeting must sign up on the Public Participation Sign-up Document. Sign-ups for Public Participation will open at 5 pm on the last business day before the meeting (Friday, May 22nd) and will close at 5:00 pm on the day of the meeting (Tuesday, May 26th). Public Participation is limited to 2 minutes per person up to 30 total minutes. Anyone wishing to make a statement to the board can also submit testimony in writing to the Board Secretary: by 5:30 pm on the day of the meeting. All submitted documents will be included in the publicly shared meeting minutes.


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