Junior Achievement CEO awaits results of audit

March 27, 2010

As the incoming CEO at Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, Jennifer Burk left the details about a large grant and construction project to her predecessor, who retired from the post after 15 years but continued to serve as a consultant.

Now a Junior Achievement supporter wants to know how the organization spent $750,000, and Burk doesn’t have the answers.

“There are many board members that wish we had asked more questions,” said Burk, who served on the Junior Achievement board of directors, then as interim CEO, before accepting the permanent position last July.

Amid an audit from the Central Indiana Community Foundation, Burk, 47, is distancing Junior Achievement from retired CEO Jeff Miller and a related foundation.

After his retirement, Miller continued to serve as president of the Experiential Learning and Entrepreneurship Foundation, which owns the JA headquarters at 7435 N. Keystone Ave. and supports the organization.

Burk Burk

While Burk points out that the foundation is a separate entity and not under JA’s control, Miller said Burk was not without a role. The foundation’s rules provide a seat on the board for the CEO of Junior Achievement and two of his or her appointees—so Burk is on the foundation’s board.

JA and the Experiential Learning foundation were partners in a $2 million grant from the Glick Fund, which is part of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The money was to go toward building a state-of-the-art culinary school for Ivy Tech Community College.

The project, announced in May 2008, was billed as a three-way collaboration. The Experiential Learning foundation would construct the culinary school next to JA’s home and lease it to Ivy Tech.

“This is so much more than just a new building, it is about organizations sharing resources and helping each other succeed at a higher level,” Miller said in a press release at the time.

The Glick family has a history of supporting JA, which named its current home the Gene B. Glick Junior Achievement Education Center.

As manager of the Glick Fund, CICF notified JA and Miller in November that it was halting payment on the grant, pending completion of an audit. That audit is ongoing.

The Glick Fund had released about $750,000 leading up to groundbreaking last fall.

The foundation needs another $1.3 million to pay subcontractors for work since last fall, and to begin the second phase of construction, according to Gary Aletto, the volunteer chairman of the Experiential Learning foundation.

Burk said she didn’t know until November that JA was responsible for managing the grant.

“Those were the representations made by Jeff Miller—that the Ivy Tech project was fully under the control of the Experiential Learning and Entrepreneurship Foundation,” she said. “It is important to note that the foundation is a separate and distinct legal entity.”

Yet the foundation has been an integral part of JA’s operation. Miller told IBJ last summer that he conceived of the foundation as a way to diversify support for JA. The foundation has run a Noble Roman’s franchise and a catering company and hosted other tenants in the JA building.

JA’s offices, BizTown and Finance Park facilities for kids are the main occupants of the Glick center. Another tenant, the Children’s Theater Institute, will depart this year to make way for the Indiana Math and Science Academy. The school received a second charter from the city and plans to open in the fall.

While Miller was CEO of JA, he also served as president of the foundation. He continued to hold that title while working as a contractor for the foundation in 2009.

Miller said his main role last year was to raise matching funds for the Ivy Tech project and oversee its day-to-day activity. The cost of the project is roughly $4.5 million for construction, plus $2 million in kitchen equipment.

When subcontractors complained about not being paid, Miller said it wasn’t his job to tell them CICF halted its grant payments.

“I was merely the president of the foundation at the time,” he said.

Miller also noted that the foundation never paid him for his work last year.

Burk acknowledged her foundation board seat, but said only two meetings have been held since she became CEO. The other two JA board posts are vacant.

It’s unclear how the foundation or Junior Achievement will come up with money to finish the culinary school. Ivy Tech has put off its move, which was planned for the fall.

Aletto said he hoped to finance the remainder of the cost through a bond issue, but provided no details.

Junior Achievement’s own operating budget has been crimped by declining corporate sponsorship. The staff shrank from 10 people in 2008 to six.

The budget for the fiscal year ending June 30 is $1.8 million, down from $2.2 million last year, Burk said.

Thanks to a strong turnout for one of JA’s main fund-raising events in February, the Central Indiana Business Hall of Fame, Burk said revenue is slightly ahead of projections.•


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