When Nicole Baril’s children got to Torrey Pines High School, she had no idea what a foundation was. She thought the Torrey Pines High School Foundation had nothing to do with her, it did not impact her kids and it wasn’t something she needed to be a part of. But as her kids moved through the school she began to understand how the foundation impacts every program on campus and benefits every kid, whether their parents donate or not.
“Nobody’s child is left out. It doesn’t work like that,” Baril said.
Recently Baril completed her first full year as the executive director of the Torrey Pines High School Foundation and has focused on spreading the message about what the foundation really is, communicating with parents about what they are working toward and what they do. She has worked toward bringing more families together and building a community, getting rid of the annual fundraising gala that they used to hold because of the stigma that the event was exclusive. Instead she aimed for a more inclusive event, bringing everyone together on the Torrey Pines High School campus this year for the free Spring Fling event with student performances rather than paid entertainers.
In addition to supporting sports, this year the foundation was able to purchase laser cutters and saws for the engineering and auto and wood tech classes, sewing machines for the theater department, a pottery wheel for ceramics, oxygen sensors for AP environmental science and biology, graphing calculators for physics and math, headphone sets for world languages, six Chromebook carts, Reality Works infant simulators for child development classes, and KitchenAid mixers, pasta machines and food processors for the culinary arts program. They funded programs for student connectedness, brought in speakers such as former NFL player Todd Marinovich and provided start-up costs for new Pathways in engineering and business.
In recent months, Baril said she has been fighting a lot of “misleading” information about the foundation as it was part of a complaint made by Torrey Pines parent Wendy Gumb concerning the school’s baseball team. Among her concerns about the baseball team and allegations of “pay for play” and conflicts of interest, Gumb’s complaint also focused on the role of foundations in district athletics. In light of the complaint and investigation, Gumb and San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board member John Salazar proposed not having CIF sports this coming season until the “broken” system is repaired.
According to one of the CIF operating principles, commercial relationships should be monitored to ensure against “inappropriate exploitation” of the school’s name or reputation and there should be no “undue influence” of commercial interest. Gumb has argued that the district is in violation of CIF rules as the foundation is a commercial interest and that the four high school foundations control the sports programs as they are entirely dependent on them.
Baril said that the allegation is not true.
“We don’t have any control over it. We don’t hire coaches. I don’t even know who half of the coaches are,” Baril said. “We manage the fundraising. We act as the fund manager for the money [sports programs] raise.”
Several parents and coaches came to the June 22 board meeting to express their support for the foundation and for sports in the district overall. One of those boosters was Ed Burke, the longtime football coach whose name is on the field at Torrey Pines — he coached the Falcons for 21 years before retiring in 2007.
“I’m old enough to have been there when the foundation began. To tell you the truth I was a little opposed to the foundation when it began,” Burke said. “I thought it was wrong to go out and ask parents to contribute.”
As Burke noted, Proposition 13 in 1978 changed everything, greatly affecting financing for public schools. He said he did everything he could to raise money for the football team — hosting a golf tournament, holding a rummage sale and having students park cars for 1984 Olympics equestrian events when they were held at what is now the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club — “I even had a Coke machine in the gym before they made me get rid of it,” Burke said.
Burke said he struggled with asking parents to donate when the foundation first began, but he said, “The foundation turned out to the the best thing that ever happened to Torrey Pines.”
“The foundation has done wonders. Music programs that had been cut were re-established, more athletic teams were established. Torrey Pines is America’s finest public school,” Burke said. “And it is that way because of the parents that support that school and have supported that school in every way possible.”
Torrey Pines football coach Ron Gladnick said he has been frustrated by the “white noise” that has permeated the district recently and the allegations of “pay for play” that he said have tarnished reputations. Gladnick said he has no idea who gives what in his program and he doesn’t care. After tracking his time last year, Gladnick said he earned a “whopping $1.05 an hour” and what he did earn he donated back for his kids, his “150 sons.”
“I will give 50 times what we ask for this year because our students, my sons, are going to be CEOs, managers, congressman, senators, leaders…they are worth the investment,” Gladnick said. “I have been a passive observer and I won’t be anymore. It’s a known fact there are ideological differences in this room and ideological differences are OK. But we coaches, parents, teachers, administrators, board members have a higher purpose to serve. And that higher purpose is we create an environment of excellence by doing right by kids.”
“The district and state are not going to fund music, art, drama, cheer, athletics, it’s left to us. And we have a beautiful community of people who love to do it,” he continued.” Don’t be swayed by the white noise and the clanging bell.”
Ann Lopez, a cross country parent, reiterated a finding of the investigation into Gumb’s complaints, that donations do not impact team placement — students try out for the team first and then parents are later asked if they would like to donate.
“It’s definitely not required. I know there were kids on the team that would have been unable to attend meets that were far away if it hadn’t been for the donations given to the foundation,” Lopez said.”And I know that those kids had opportunities given to them as a result of the generosity of other families at Torrey Pines.”
During public comment, parent Beth Westburg offered an opposing view — she said the problem is not about the programs, it is more about transparency.
“As a parent I would like to know where my money is going,” Westburg said. “I don’t know who pays for what — I have no idea and nobody knows where the money goes, what it’s spent on and that’s the problem. It’s not the coaches. It’s not the teams. It’s the transparency of the district and the lack of it.”
Westberg said that there is a lack of knowledge on the district level, that they don’t know how much it costs to run programs as they don’t budget for athletics.
“The district is on the hook to pay for it (athletics) regardless of whether the foundation supports it,” Westburg said. “The coaches and foundations want the world for our kids and ask for everything because they can. The district has a fiduciary responsibility to make sure all the rules followed.”
Baril said the foundation works to be as transparent as possible. The foundation works on budgets with every program liaison and school site administrators based on needs. Every year, they are audited by an independent auditor and the financials are shared online. They don’t report details of every check written and donors are kept private — however, an honor roll on the website lists donors at various levels.
Baril said in light of the recent investigation, the foundation is much more sensitive about the “ask”— the foundation is working to train team liaisons on their donation appeals so they never appear to be mandatory in any way.
SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill said in his 16 years in the district, he has been overwhelmed by parent support through the foundations and said that he will always accept any donation.
“We do budget for athletics. We do pay for coaches and for transportation and other things. Do we ask for donations? Yes we do, to make those programs better. I can’t think of any program throughout the district whether its arts, athletics, academics, robotics or career technical education that would be made better by less funding. Our district is not able to provide all of the things that we need so our parents have done a great job of providing that additional support…Our programs would not be the same without that parent support.”
During public comment at the meeting, Gumb said she agreed with Coach Gladnick about doing right by kids and that’s it’s important to get it right. In her response to the investigative report, Gumb said she would still like more clarity on how the foundation’s budgets are set, where the booster funds are recorded and that donations be made public record.
“For the last six months I’ve been here at every board meeting except for one really advocating for transparency and to get it right,” Gumb said.