SEPACs may need a source of funds to pay for speakers, print brochures and flyers and plan activities. The officers should develop an annual budget along with their calendar of activities. A school district or School Committee may commit funds to support the activities of a SEPAC or a SEPAC may engage in fund-raising activities, although it is not required to do so.
All Massachusetts Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (SEPACs) must review their practices with respect to fund-raising and the holding of funds for use by the SEPAC and revise their practices as needed to be in compliance with the DESE Guidance published in March 2010. As an adviser to a public body, SEPACs cannot hold onto funds in non-municipal accounts. Each district School Business Administrator and SEPAC should work together with their local City/Town Treasurer to set up an account for SEPAC funds and establish guidelines for depositing and disbursing funds. The local School Committee shall authorize the establishment of this account.
SEPACs should define what their fiscal needs are as part of their annual planning process. Speakers usually charge a fee for their presentations and the SEPAC needs funds to produce flyers, brochures or other meeting materials. SEPACs should also identify sources of funding from within the district – the School Committee, PTO and PTA groups, a local Educational Foundation or other organizations. SEPACs who fund-raise must be in compliance with any local district fundraising policies. Efforts should be made to identify workshops or presentations that may be held free of charge.
The law establishing SEPACs states, “in the course of its duties under this section, the parent advisory council shall receive assistance from the school committee without charge, upon reasonable notice, and subject to the availability of staff and resources.” The law envisions that there will be a good faith effort by the school district to provide assistance to the SEPAC. SEPACs should look to how the district supports other parent groups as a guide. A SEPAC may engage in fund- raising activities, but is not required to do so. If a SEPAC does engage in fund-raising activities, it may include two categories of funds:
- Public Funds
- Private Funds
A SEPAC is a public body established by a school committee, therefore, any funds raised or contributions received by a SEPAC are public funds, subject to the laws governing grants or gifts to the school committee. (M.G.L. chapter 44, section 53A and chapter 71, section 37A).
This means funds raised by the SEPAC must be deposited with the municipal treasurer, held as a separate account, and become part of the district’s End-of-Year Pupil and Financial Report.
A gift to a public school district or other governmental entity is fully deductible, even though the entity does not have separate 501(c) (3) recognition, so long as the gift is used exclusively for public purposes, accepted by the School Committee, and deposited into a fund established by School Committee vote with a defined public purpose. (A charitable contribution is defined in Section 170(c) of the United States Tax Code and includes gifts to governmental units, 501(c)(3) organizations, and certain gifts to veterans’ organizations, fraternal groups and cemetery companies).
Some or all members of a SEPAC may form a separate, private non-profit organization (i.e., “Friends of the SEPAC”) or work within the framework of an existing private organization to raise private funds to support the SEPAC’s role.
Funds raised by this separate entity are raised in the name of the private organization, with separate by-laws and governance documents filed with the Attorney General’s Division of Public Charities, and not in the SEPAC’s name. In addition, the responsibility for the privately-raised funds rests with the private organization’s officers, who are subject to state and federal laws governing fund-raising by private individuals and groups.
A school committee has no oversight role with regard to privately-raised funds to support education-related activities, and there are no other restrictions on their use besides the state and federal fundraising laws.
Other Sources of Funds
Local PTO/PTA groups may provide seed money for SEPAC projects and events since students with disabilities are part of the schools. Parents of students with special needs may belong to both a SEPAC and a local PTA/PTO. SEPACs can send letters to each Parent Group requesting a small donation to support the efforts of the SEPAC. This could be an annual request. Many SEPACs have been successful with this collaborative approach. Some districts have private Educational Foundations which provide funds on an annual basis upon application.