Ignacio FFA gun raffle stirs debate

How much control does a school organization have over its own money?

Ignacio school officials and FFA supporters debated that question at the Aug. 14 school board meeting. At issue was the fundraising raffle of a Mossberg 5.56 varmint rifle with scope now in progress, with the club planning to pay for the gun with money in its school district account.

Parent Germaine Ewing told the school board that money from the gun raffle will be used to buy a horse trailer to take livestock to events. They also are raffling a fly fishing trip, she said.

"We ordered the rifle, not knowing there might be an issue," she said. FFA teacher/ sponsor Brandon Hatter wanted to get money out of their club school district account to pay for it. He was not at the board meeting.

"We were told in early June that the check was denied," Ewing said. "I contacted (District Superintendent) Rocco Fuschetto to find out what happened. He said he was concerned about it looking like the school was raffling the rifle."

The rifle will never be on school grounds, she said. The raffle winner will have to go through state background checks to receive the gun.

"We printed tickets and continued with the raffle," Ewing said. All but about 100 tickets out of 1,000 have already been sold.

"There don't appear to be any district policies to prevent this," she said. "We need clarification as parents. Does the money have to stay with the school district? Is Dr. Fuschetto the only authority? Is there an appeal system? Either the parents have to come up with the money, or money from the raffle has to be used to pay for the rifle, instead of money the kids have earned" previously.

Ewing asked, "If I write a personal check for the gun, will Dr. Fuschetto allow me to be reimbursed?"

The rifle cost is more than $500, she said. They have an outside donation to help pay for it, and money from ticket sales, but now they are afraid to put it in the club's school district account, she said.

Board member Agnes Sanchez asked if they had gone through the procedure to get authorization for a fundraiser. That goes through the student council, the principal, and then the superintendent.

Ewing said there is a separate FFA Booster Club with their own funds, and the FFA parents who decided to have a fundraiser. "The only connection is the money will be used to buy equipment for the FFA," she said.

Board president Toby Roderick asked if everyone that has a concession stand at a school event has to go through the process Sanchez referred to.

Ewing responded, "We as parents have to go to student council to get permission? It's the parents. If we want this program (FFA) to succeed, we need tools. The money students are making on their own shouldn't be controlled by the school. We are earning it. We aren't taking it from anyone else" such as the basketball program.

"I'm here as a parent trying to raise money for my kid to do these activities," Ewing continued. She objected to someone else telling them how they can spend the money they raise.

Board member Luke Kirk commented, "My opinion is this is in accordance with the traditions of our area." He made a motion to release club funds.

Roderick said it will have to be under new business at the board's next meeting.

With most of the raffle tickets already sold, Ewing said, "I don't know how we could stop it at this point. We weren't aware as parents that we needed to have your permission to raise money for our kids."

Board member Bobby Schurman said FFA "is ag, hunting, sportsmanship. I have a problem with attaching this (issue) to a school shooting, that it's the gun's fault. I think it stinks that you can't raise money to buy the trailer."

Sanchez said the FFA sponsor should have known about the fundraiser authorization process.

Activities Director Rocky Cundiff said, "All our clubs follow these policies."

The FFA parents aren't a school club, Ewing countered.

Fuschetto asked whether the parents group is separate from the FFA Booster Club. Ewing said she doesn't consider them separate. The booster club does the Rocky Mountain oyster fry and Taste of Ignacio fundraisers, she said.

Fuschetto said the gun raffle didn't get permission from the principal. "I approved your other things. I'll do whatever the board orders me to do, but I think this is the wrong thing. I understand guns don't kill people. As soon as you put Ignacio FFA on it, it becomes a school thing."

He continued, "It's the whole culture that's going on in the U.S. We're in a different world than we were 20 years ago."

Fuschetto told the Times this week that given board sentiment, he has released the money, "but I still don't think it's right."

He said both the FFA club money and FFA booster club money are in the district activities fund, along with other school organizations.

"The activities fund is so there's accountability," he said, to make sure clubs have the money available before they spend it, so expenditures don't become a school liability.