State legislators are raising concerns about what the closure of an organization called Ocean Classroom Foundation may mean for the Amistad, the state’s flagship 79-foot schooner.
Ocean Classroom Foundation has provided maintenance for the Amistad, recruited staff and the crew on board and its held Amistad’s insurance policy. OCF, based in Maine, will shut down at the end of the month due to financial problems.
Over the years, Connecticut has invested millions of dollars in the Amistad. State Representative Diana Urban said $5,000 a month has been going to Ocean Classroom. "I’m going to be candid," she said. "We are paying a foundation that is located in Maine and incorporated in Delaware to run the flagship of the state of Connecticut? That doesn’t make any sense."
Urban wants assurances that the vessel is not in any way liable for Ocean Classroom’s debts to banks. "Is the Amistad going to be looked at?" she said. "Are there mortgages? Are there liens? What are the agreements between the two organizations?"
Hanifa Washington, executive director of Amistad America, said there is no danger that banks would consider the vessel an asset of OCF. "Ocean Classroom Foundation does not own the vessel," she said. "The certificate of ownership has always remained with Amistad America. There can be no legal backlash that happens to vessel as an asset of OCS whatsoever."
These concerns follow the recent release of an audit of Amistad America, which found that as of 2012, it had spent down its endowment to cover operating expenses. Amistad America lost its tax-exempt status last year.
Washington said the audit found no malfeasance, but does show a non-profit that’s struggling, and needs to change direction. "We have taken steps," she said. "We have secured professional financial advisors and managers, individuals and companies that are certified that are helping us in terms of correct and accurate bookkeeping, and that’s going to be our number one priority."
The legislature appropriates state funds to the Department of Economic and Community Development. DECD is the conduit through which money is sent to the Amistad.