New College Institute is making plans to launch a new foundation to support its programming in the Martinsville area, following years of increasingly strained relations with its existing fundraising arm.
During a meeting Thursday, board chair Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, said that it’s unclear how the relationship with the institute’s current foundation will proceed, but that discussions are underway to form a new entity to raise funds to supplement state funding for the higher education center.
“I believe we should move toward creating the vessel for a new foundation because I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I see a very positive light,” Stanley said.
The New College Institute and its accompanying philanthropic foundation were established by the commonwealth in 2006 to provide educational opportunities for Martinsville and the surrounding Henry County area.
In February 2023, the New College Foundation announced it was changing its name to the Martinsville-Henry County Academic Foundation. Instead of solely focusing on raising money for NCI, it intended to raise money for a variety of education-focused programs in the area.
The Virginia attorney general’s office quickly got involved, telling the rebranded foundation that it couldn’t disburse any money raised for NCI to any outside entities. NCI is a state-run institute, and the attorney general’s office serves as its legal counsel.
The relationship between NCI and the foundation — which had been strained for years amid leadership turnover at the institute and declining enrollment in programs run by its higher-education partner schools — has been especially tense in the months since then.
At its June meeting, the NCI board voted to move forward with plans to sue the foundation for the $12 million in assets the foundation currently holds.
Stanley said he and vice-chair Richard Hall traveled to Richmond twice in a nine-day period to discuss the future of NCI with the governor’s office. Hall said he has three board members lined up to serve on the initial board of the new NCI foundation.
Though the existing foundation’s expanded mission is on hold, it awarded eight scholarships to students pursuing degrees with NCI’s academic partners, including Longwood University and Radford University, in 2023-2024. The awards totaled $23,000; last year, it gave out eight scholarships for a total of $17,500.
The foundation also awards the annual Lula White Johnson Distinguished Teaching Award to a faculty member serving the NCI community. The recognition includes a $1,000 prize.
During the board meeting Thursday, Stanley said the foundation had petitioned the Internal Revenue Service to change its status and use funds raised for NCI for its broadened mission, but was rejected.
According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the foundation submitted an IRS form in February 2023 requesting “reclassification of foundation status, including a voluntary request from a public charity for private foundation status.”
In an August email, Kevin DeKoninck, the foundation’s executive director, explained that the foundation had asked for a revised tax determination “since we enhanced our mission statement earlier in the year.”
He said the IRS responded that doing so was not necessary.
DeKoninck did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.