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Columbus School District turns down $75,000 grant


Columbus Municipal School District Board President Tommy Prude

Columbus Municipal School District Board President Tommy Prude



Carmen K. Sisson



The Columbus Municipal School District said thanks but no thanks to a $75,000 grant donation last week, but the reasons remain murky.  


Ginomai Ministries, operated by Genesis Church Pastor Darren Leach, received the grant from the Walmart Foundation, intending to give the money to the district for educational purposes.  


Board member Glenn Lautzenhiser made the motion to accept the donation, but it was not seconded, preventing further discussion. 


Board president Tommy Prude was visibly frustrated, asking the board, "There being no second, we don't want the $75,000? Thank you so much. The motion failed for lack of a second." 


After the meeting, Prude said that, to his understanding, the district was not eligible to apply for the grant, so Ginomai Ministries applied.  


He said he believed board members may have rejected the donation because of legal implications and concern over accepting a donation that was not directly awarded to the district.  


He deferred legal questions to board attorney David Dunn, who said via phone that he would have to check with Prude before he could speak about the matter. Dunn could not be reached again by press time.  


Board members Currie Fisher and Aubra Turner declined to comment, saying Prude speaks for the board.  


Prude said if the motion had gone up for a vote, he would have voted in favor of accepting the money.  


"You don't turn money down," Prude said Thursday night. "I was disappointed. I thought we had that money. It will probably be returned to Walmart. I just don't know. It was unexpected." 


Board member Glenn Lautzenhiser was equally baffled. He said Dunn told them they could legally accept the donation, and from what Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell had said, he believed there was the possibility of more money from Ginomai in the future. He said he's not sure now whether or not the rejection closes that door for the future.  


"You know what our financial condition has been and how hard we have worked to cut expenses, and $75,000 is a significant amount of money," Lautzenhiser said Monday morning. "I really just don't understand." 


When asked via email for a copy of the grant proposal and the donated check, Liddell responded: "I do not have any further comments at this time regarding the matter. My goal is to do all possible to provide a quality education for Columbus school children every day." 


The Dispatch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain documentation about the rejected grant. Leach did not return phone calls.  


Ginomai Ministries, created Sept. 5, 2008, is listed in good standing with the Mississippi Secretary of State's office.  


But Internal Revenue Service records indicate the organization had its tax exemption status automatically revoked May 15, 2011, with a revocation posting date of June 11, 2012. 


More than 275,000 charities lost tax-exempt status in 2011 following the enforcement of the 2006 Pension Protection Act, which required all nonprofits to file federal tax returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009. The news took many by surprise, because previously, nonprofits with revenues of less than $25,000 were not required to file.  


Organizations that have had tax-exemption status revoked may still receive donations, but the donations are not tax-deductible and any donation they receive may be taxable.  


CMSD recently received a $250,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to use for the Project 2020 dropout prevention program. A $95,000 Rural Education grant from the Mississippi Department of Education and a $5,000 Omnova Foundation grant will also fund the program. It is unclear whether the rejection of the Ginomai grant will affect the program.


Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.



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