Par­ents, board not in tune at youth or­ches­tra

Sour notes over costs and lead­er­ship

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - EMMA REILLY

Con­cerned par­ents and mem­bers of the Hamil­ton Phil­har­monic Youth Or­ches­tra want to know how the not-for­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion is spend­ing its money.

The par­ents — many of whom are alumni of the or­ches­tra — say they have tried re­peat­edly to get an­swers from the board of direc­tors about an $85,000 spike in op­er­a­tional ex­penses and a $37,000 deficit last year. They also have ques­tions about whether the board of direc­tors is prop­erly gov­ern­ing the reg­is­tered char­ity.

The par­ents say the board hasn’t ad­dressed these is­sues and has not pro­vided sat­is­fac­tory an­swers.

But Rian McLaugh­lin, chair of the HPYO board, says the board is meet­ing their le­gal obli­ga­tions and has done its best to com­mu­ni­cate with par­ents.

“Some of these ques­tions are new to us re­cently and we are re­spond­ing as best we can. We’re pulling these pieces to­gether now,” she said. “We’re try­ing to bal­ance as best we can every­body’s in­ter­est and ob­jec­tives.”

The dis­pute has be­come so po­lar­ized that both sides have hired lawyers.

The par­ents have raised sev­eral con­cerns about the gov­er­nance of the youth or­ches­tra, in­clud­ing:

Man­age­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­penses climbed from $16,932 in 2015 to $102,696 in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the

Canada Rev­enue Agency.

De­spite re­peated re­quests by par­ents, the board has not pro­vided au­dited fi­nan­cial state­ments to ex­plain these in­creases.

The most re­cent an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, in­clud­ing the elec­tion of the board, was con­ducted with­out quo­rum, a breach of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s by­laws.

This year, the HPYO in­creased its mem­ber­ship fees, while at the same time, sec­tional coach­ing and in­struc­tion from the pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians of the Hamil­ton Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra was elim­i­nated.

“We care deeply about the or­ches­tra’s his­tory as well as sus­tain­ing its fu­ture. Our hope is to re­store HPYO to an or­ga­ni­za­tion that is gov­erned re­spon­si­bly, that re­spects the artis­tic vi­sion of the Mu­sic Di­rec­tor, and that val­ues young mu­si­cians and their ed­u­ca­tion first and fore­most,” said the par­ents in a state­ment to The Spec­ta­tor.

The HPYO, founded in 1965, was ini­tially as­so­ci­ated with the Hamil­ton Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra — it op­er­ated as an ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach pro­gram — but the HPYO split am­i­ca­bly from its par­ent or­ches­tra in the late 90s. It reg­is­tered as a in­de­pen­dent char­ity with its own board of direc­tors in 1998.

De­spite the sim­i­lar­i­ties in their names, the youth or­ches­tra now op­er­ates as an in­de­pen­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion that is not as­so­ci­ated with Hamil­ton’s pro­fes­sional or­ches­tra.

The HPYO runs two dif­fer­ent or­ches­tras for roughly 80 young mu­si­cians un­der the age of 24: the Con­cert Or­ches­tra, which is geared to­ward younger, less-ex­pe­ri­enced mu­si­cians, and the Phil­har­monic Youth Or­ches­tra, which is for more ex­pe­ri­enced young mu­si­cians.

In 2016, the HPYO re­ported rev­enue of $231,366 — most of which came from do­na­tions and gov­ern­ment fund­ing, in­clud­ing $10,000 from the City of Hamil­ton. That year, it spent $268,528, a deficit of roughly $37,000.

At the same time, fees for both or­ches­tras climbed this sea­son. In 2015/16, tu­ition was $350 for the Con­cert or­ches­tra and $625 for the Phil­har­monic. In 2016/17, mem­ber­ship cost $520 for the Con­cert or­ches­tra and $820 for the Phil­har­monic.

McLaugh­lin points to sev­eral fac­tors to ex­plain the $85,000 in­crease in ad­min­is­tra­tive and man­age­ment ex­penses, in­clud­ing strate­gic de­ci­sions to lease down­town of­fice and re­hearsal space, hire a full-time ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, and an in­crease in some con­tracted staff salaries.

She added that au­dited state­ments will be avail­able for par­ents at the next an­nual gen­eral meet­ing and that par­ents are wel­come to come into the HPYO of­fice and re­view the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s past fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments at any time.

“They have but to ask the ques­tion. We’d be happy to pro­vide that.”

In a let­ter from their lawyer dated June 12, the par­ents asked for the board to call a spe­cial meet­ing by June 17 to re­move McLaugh­lin from her roles as HPYO di­rec­tor and chair of the board. Their lawyer, Joshua Perell, states that un­der the HPYO by­laws, the board is re­quired to call a meet­ing with a pe­ti­tion of one-tenth of its mem­ber­ship — in this case, the group of con­cerned par­ents.

“Our clients be­lieve it is in the best in­ter­ests of HPYO that Rian McLaugh­lin, a di­rec­tor and chair of the board, be re­moved from these po­si­tions,” reads Perell’s let­ter.

So far, the board has yet to ar­range this meet­ing.

McLaugh­lin said the board is in the process of sched­ul­ing the next an­nual gen­eral meet­ing (AGM) and is “wait­ing on con­fir­ma­tion of the avail­abil­ity of the lo­ca­tion,” which should take place within the next sev­eral weeks.

“The meet­ing will be called im­mi­nently. We are open to do­ing that, and in fact, all of those pieces are com­ing to­gether right now,” she said.

Richard Leblanc, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of law, gov­er­nance and ethics, at York Univer­sity, says the par­ents’ ques­tions are valid and the HPYO board should call a meet­ing and ex­plain its ac­tions as soon as pos­si­ble.

“You shouldn’t leave mem­bers hang­ing. What is there to hide? You shouldn’t wait for the AGM,” he said. “The board should be much more trans­par­ent with its mem­bers.”

Leblanc also points out that with char­i­ties, as much money as pos­si­ble should be fun­neled to pro­grams — in this case, the youth or­ches­tras — and not to man­age­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Par­tic­u­larly with char­i­ties the guid­ing prin­ci­ple is that all money should go to the end user and to the ben­e­fi­ciary — not to ad­min. That’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

Kather­ine Car­leton is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Or­ches­tras Canada, a na­tional ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides sup­port for or­ches­tras across the coun­try. She says that for var­i­ous rea­sons, youth or­ches­tras like the HPYO are not el­i­gi­ble for fund­ing from the se­nior lev­els of gov­ern­ment on an on­go­ing ba­sis. As a re­sult, they de­pend on fundrais­ing, do­na­tions, and leg­work from vol­un­teers — usu­ally par­ents — to stay afloat.

As a re­sult, Car­leton said con­flicts like these are po­ten­tially harm­ful for the long-term health of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“For youth or­ches­tras to suc­ceed, they have to fig­ure out how to get along — be­cause they’re so del­i­cately bal­anced on peo­ple will­ing to give freely of their time and their re­sources to sup­port the or­ches­tra,” she said.

“This, on the face of things, sounds se­ri­ous.”

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