Northeast News
June 20, 2012

For more than 70 years, The Don Bosco Community Centers has been serving Historic Northeast.

It’s become a staple in the area, a needed resource for families and individuals from all walks of life.

Recently, the non-profit organization re-evaluated its finances and some sources say it’s on the verge of collapse.

Three key personnel have resigned, including Executive Director Ben Cascio, and four were let go due to financial reasons.

“A lot of us have been there for years and years and never planned on leaving,” said former Don Bosco Human Resources Director Charity Guerra, who was laid off.

“Financially, we needed to cut back,” explained Joe Privitera, incoming chair of the Don Bosco Board of Directors. “Don Bosco could not keep that many people on staff financially. It makes no sense to be an institution where our core is keeping people employed when we have volunteers begging to help. So, we’re restructuring. We’re trying to make it so we are what we preach – a volunteer organization trying to benefit and help people move on.”

A number of the financial issues stem from the Don Bosco Charter High School, which permanently closed its doors in May of 2011.

“It wasn’t just a high school. It wasn’t just another charter school. It was where the Kansas City School District failed and this was the last hope to continue the high school experience for kids,” Privitera said.

State funding for schools is based on average daily attendance and as a last chance school, attendance wasn’t stellar. That meant if the school hired 35 teachers to teach 200 students and only 120 students attended on average, those extra teachers were still under contract and needed to be paid, Privitera said.

“We had to find ways to keep the school open because of the dollars and quite honestly, the kids didn’t want to be there. The problem was the dollars were never there to maintain the school,” Privitera said.

Once the school closed, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) discovered the school had misspent $256,000 in Title I federal funds that needed to be returned. That figure was later reduced to $214,824.33. To recoup the funds, DESE withheld state aid payments from the school for May and June of 2011, which totaled $191,280.26. As a result, the school said it could not afford to pay its teachers and staff for the remainder of June, July and August. With the help of community center funds and a donation drive, the faculty and staff contracts were eventually fulfilled.

However, another reliable source connected to Don Bosco said shutting down the school also meant losing a major source of unrestricted funds for the community center. While the center receives a number of grants, those funds are encumbered and can’t be used for items like payroll, utilities and other overhead costs.

When Don Bosco Charter High School was a functioning school, it paid rent to the community center to use its facilities, the source said. When the school shut down, so did the funding. Since the school provided rent for a number of years, the Board of Directors depended on that revenue and slacked off on fundraising for the center, the source said.

“Over a lengthy period of time, the board did not contribute unrestricted dollars,” the source said. “They didn’t have a fundraising campaign, which was unbelievable. Fundraising is a big part of what any not for profit board would do.”

When asked about fundraising, Privitera skirted around the issue and pointed out that fundraising is also a requirement for the executive director’s position.

Privitera continued that Don Bosco is restructuring its program and will continue to serve youth, families, seniors and those needing English as a second language programs. In addition, the non-profit will begin working with organizations like City Union Mission, reStart and Hope Faith Ministries to partner on similar programs, he said.

“What we’re doing right now is wonderful and I’m excited about it. It’s (Don Bosco) going to continue and it’s not going to fail. Don Bosco is going to be there for the Northeast as long as there’s a Northeast,” he said.

However, other sources doubt the stability of Don Bosco and cited financial woes.

“I don’t see how it can continue on as an entity,” a reliable source connected to Don Bosco told Northeast News. “I think the best opportunity is for other agencies to absorb those clients, those needs and those programs.”

Guerra also doubted the stability of the non-profit and cited a lack of fundraising. She also referred to Northeast News‘ web only article which first introduced Don Bosco’s alleged financial instability and potential inability to continue as an organization.

“It was dead on and very accurate,” she said. “They are not bringing the money in. I foresee them eventually closing down. I would like to see it rise up again, but at this point I really don’t think it will.”

Other Don Bosco employees paint a different picture.

“Our program is not on the verge of collapse. Our program couldn’t be sounder financially,” said David Holsclaw, director of Don Bosco’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

�Don Bosco Senior Center Director Anne Miller agreed.

“Every agency and business has its ups and downs, but we continue to look for ways to improve and grow because the demand in this area continues to increase,” she said. “We’re here, and we’re planning to stay.”

Privitera said Don Bosco is continuing to evaluate its finances. Asked if he could assure the public that Don Bosco will continue to operate and have adequate funding, Privitera said, “I don’t think any non profit can guarantee that. How can you guarantee you won’t get hit by a car when you leave there (the office)? How can I guarantee I won’t have a heart attack when I leave my car tonight?

“We have a team that’s not going to let it fail. If I have to step into my pocket to keep it going, I will.”

Key staff no longer with Don Bosco:
• Ben Cascio, executive director
• Charity Guerra, human relations director
• Sandy Brock, head of accounting
• Amos Johnson III of development
• Lynn Johnson, director of youth development
• Carla Brewer, director of the family support center
• Roberta Stubbs, employment specialist and case manager