CINCINNATI — Picking up the pieces after a Ponzi scheme destroyed its fundraising arm, the School for Creative and Performing Arts has turned to its most prolific supporter to manage fundraising and restore trust among donors and the community.
Greater Cincinnati Arts & Education Center, which raised $32 million to pay for about half of SCPA's new home on Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine, will transform to become SCPA Fund, a nonprofit group that will head ongoing fundraising efforts for the school.
The arts and education center and Cincinnati Public Schools officials are working on key details like the composition of SCPA Fund's board of directors. District and school officials hope to have an agreement ready for a school board vote in November and for the fund to be fully operational by January.
"I couldn't be more excited," SCPA Executive Director Nick Nissley said. "You've got that really proud, deep history of GCAEC being a fundraising organization for the school that delivered a very large gift of $32 million."
The SCPA Fund will be led by Thomas J. Klinedinst Jr., a risk management and insurance consultant who was instrumental in raising the $32 million for the new SCPA.
"Tom has become a great personal friend and mentor, and I think with someone of his level serving as chair couldn't be better," he said.
"We're going to be operating in a much more formalized structure than what was in place in the past," Klinedinst said. "Our purpose is going to be in the funding area. We are not anticipating being involved in the any operations of SCPA so that we will not be distracted."
SCPA Fund will replace Friends of SCPA, which collapsed in 2014 after its leaders turned over nearly $500,000 in assets to what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme led by convicted fraud Glen Galemmo.
The school's many theatrical, dance and music productions for 2014-15 were under threat of being canceled because the school lacked money until an anonymous donor made a gift and the school district loaned money to the school to salvage the season.
The fallout was extensive. After an outside consultant and internal audits revealed major leadership and communication shortfalls and lax financial controls, Principal Steve Brokamp and Artistic Director Isidore Rudnick were reassigned.
Nissley was hired as SCPA's first executive director to oversee the new principal, Michael Owens, and new artistic manager, Angela Powell Walker. Both are SCPA graduates.
"SCPA has risen from the confusion and the ashes of last year with great effort and due diligence," said Eve Bolton, a school board member who has been active in the formation of SCPA Fund.
"We are so gratified that the folks who helped invent and fund this great concept are still with us and are still committed to do what is necessary for having a world-class performing arts institution," she said.
Nissley is well aware of the damage that needs to be repaired.
"As the school's new leadership team, we've been charged with rebuilding bridges with our donors and the community," he said.
Klinedinst said SCPA Fund will be structured to ensure transparency and sound financial management of donations.
"We will be forming an investment committee, utilizing investment managers who will be qualified investment managers. We will be dealing with certified public accountants and filing our (tax returns) annually to be absolutely transparent," he said.
To ensure that board members are qualified to carry out their various responsibilities, SCPA Fund will not have non-board members like Friends of SCPA did, minimizing the risk of a block of members voting to elect less qualified directors.
"We also will have a written investment policy statement," Klinedinst said. "While we are not officially a foundation, we will be governing and operating very similarly to one."
GCAEC has remained active supporting SCPA, funding the national search for an executive director and partially funding the DeVos study, which analyzed the school's strengths and weaknesses.
Klinedinst thinks that trust lost when Friends of SCPA lost money to Galemmo and dissolved can be quickly restored.
"We're very optimistic, we're very determined, and we're really happy to be part of what is a great asset to Cincinnati," he said.
Melanie Bates, a CPS school board member, said the turmoil at SCPA last year allowed the district to take a hard look at all aspects of the school and strengthen it.
"The new agreement that we will have with the new fund is going to be done with a good basis of knowledge and appropriate oversight," she said. "It looks like there is going to be a happy ending after all."