Please Help - Team Lost Everything (money, robots, number..)

Hello everyone. I know this will be a long post, but we’re really scrambling to get things working for the upcoming season, and we would very much appreciate any help we can get.

About myself, I am a 2012 graduate of LiveWire 3456, currently attending MIT for Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and acting as a remote mentor for the team.

I’ll start with a background of our situation. Team LiveWire 3456 was started in 2011 as a second team for the Pocatello, Idaho School District 25, alongside HayWire 1569. Funding was secured through several grants and donations, and both teams were operating on a limited but comfortable budget. The school district supported both teams by providing a build site and a modest coaching stipend for the coaches, but they provided no monetary support for either team. Both teams enjoyed success, and LiveWire attended the FIRST Championship twice in our two year history, winning the Rookie All-Star Award then the Chairman’s Award.

But only a few months ago, School District 25 announced completely unexpectedly that it would only sanction a single team, team 1569. LiveWire 3456 was to be completely disbanded.

This presented many problems for the coaches, students, and parents of LiveWire. It is important to note that, though LiveWire and HayWire worked closely together, there are marked differences in ideology between the teams. HayWire believes in building a simple and effective robot. They like to have something reliable and thoroughly tested for competition, and they tend to put an emphasis on the physical aspects of building the robot. LiveWire, on the other hand, is focused more on the outreach aspect of FIRST. We put heavy emphasis on outreach, service, mentoring, etc., and we prefer to build a robot that will challenge us and teach us something new, even though it may not perform the best in competition. Both ideologies hold their merits, and I don’t wish to disparage either. My point is that LiveWire exists as a separate team for a reason, and that reason isn’t one we’re willing to abandon.

This brings me to the problem LiveWire is currently facing. When the school district announced that it would only sanction a single team, all of LiveWire’s money, tools, equipment, and robots were sequestered by the school district. We were left with virtually nothing, not even our leftover money from last season or the robot we competed at the 2012 Championship with. With this announcement coming so late and so unexpectedly, it has been extremely difficult garnering adequate funding to support the team for the 2013 season.

This caused further problems when it was decided that LiveWire would be unable to retain its number 3456. We were to be reinstated as team number 3562, a number from our rookie year, but we are not to be recognized as a rookie team. This means LiveWire will be given the veteran kit of parts, even though we don’t have a cRIO, Classmate, jaguars, batteries, etc. Our registration fee is slowly being acquired, mostly through parent contributions, but we don’t know where we’re going to find hundreds or thousands of dollars more to get the components we need. We already missed the NASA grant because we didn’t have a team number by the due date, and we’re having a hard time coming up with the necessary funds for our team.

So we’re wondering, are there any teams out there who might be able to help us out? Specifically, we’re looking for teams that have an extra cRIO, classmate, pretty much anything that doesn’t come in the veteran kit that we would be able to have or borrow for the season, or any advice as to what we can do to help our situation. We really want to continue as a team this season, and we have a very dedicated group of students, parents, and mentors who are putting in an incredible amount of time to try and make it work. No matter what happens we’ll continue our outreach endeavors, but we don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to have a competitive robot.

Thanks for reading this long post, and thanks in advance for any help you might be able to offer!

My advice: Contact your regional Senior Mentor. See if they know of anything that would be of use to you this season.

A few questions for clarification…

What is happening with all of the items that were taken by the school? Does the equipment belong to the school, or the team, Was the team set up as being a school sanctioned club that was a part of the school?

In Michigan, it doesn’t matter what set up a club has, that money belongs to that club and can be dispersed however the advisor sees fit when the club is no longer viable. Talk to the district and see what they are doing with the teams old stuff. I’ve never seen a school that has a need for FRC equipment, and I don’t know how yours could be special in any way in that sense.

If all of the items are going to the other team in your school district, I’m willing to bet that if you get the funds together for registration they might be the team to go to for an extra cRIO and classmate. I don’t know of anyone involved in FIRST that would view a situation like that as an opportunity to have two of everything…

With that being said, if you get really desperate, we have an old 8 slot we use for practice and we haven’t used our classmate in the last year or so. If you need them and can figure out a way to ship, we would be happy to help…

Let’s take a look at this from another perspective.

Do you know how / why the school arrived at this decision ? What is their rationale ? Is it refutable ?

There is a lot of information in your post from the team’s perspective but it would be good to know what the schools viewpoint is. Understanding their view might be helpful.

Thank you all for your quick responses.

To answer some of your questions, I realized I might not have made myself entirely clear, I apologize. I’ll start with some clarification.

LiveWire was set up as a school team. We were designated as affiliated with one high school, but we involved students from all three high schools in our town. Consequently, the school district ultimately sanctioned the team. Though they provided no monetary support, we were nonetheless bound to them.

The school district has also made it extremely clear that LiveWire is not to have any of our equipment, tools, robots, etc. LiveWire will not ever be able to acquire its equipment again. We have pleaded to the school district, repeatedly asked for their reasoning, each team member, most parents, and mentors wrote personal letters to the board members, we even scheduled meetings with the superintendent – only to have them cancelled. The only reason we have ever been given is “the district is moving in a different direction.” That is literally the only response we’ve been given, after repeated attempts to get more information.

I was also just informed that the school district has declared all of our equipment and money to be school district property, and HayWire is not allowed to share any of it with us. We do not know why the school district has designated this, it is as much a mystery to us as to anyone else.

We have already reached out to our regional director and to FIRST. They helped us acquire a new team number, as the school district would not release the number 3456 for us to use. The school district tried to prevent us from even continuing on as a team, but with the help of FIRST, (Thank you Mr. Merrick!) the district was defeated in this endeavor. They did succeed in withholding our number from us though.

Again, we have no idea why the district decided to do this to us. We always did our best to stay in good relations, “Pocatello School District 25” was displayed prominently on our robot, robot truck, and website, and our team’s outreach endeavors correlate directly with the goals of the district.

MrBasse, thank you so much. We will keep in contact if the situation does not get better, we really appreciate the offer.

Just to be clear here, by virtue of being a “sanctioned” team, all team property was the property of the district? I realize this may be splitting hairs, but if they have no legal right to repossess your equipment, you may be able to challenge them on that front. Although it sounds like most of your avenues in that direction have been pursued already.

I’m glad to hear FIRST was able to help you out, this sounds like a very hostile situation. Tools, capital equipment and team vehicles I could see the district being able to use or re-purpose, but it baffles me why they would withhold old robots.

If one team prefers to concentrate more on the robot, and one on the outreach…I would think you would actually go better together. Mutual benefit.

The students on the one who prefer competing - compete
The students on the one who prefer outreach - outreach

Having strong programs in both would let students gain the most by participating in what they feel more strongly about. And there may be students on one team who prefer the aspect of the other - but haven’t gotten to experience it.

Sounds like this is one instance where you might to get the local media involved. A school district trying to prevent STEM? Ridiculous!

Firstly, let’s distinguish new LiveWire from old LiveWire: as I understand it, the former is a new privately-operated team, and the latter is an old, defunct school-operated team. Organizationally, people moved from old to new, but there’s no common corporate lineage. Is that correct?

Also, let’s get this out of the way: you make reference to differences of opinion between old LiveWire and HayWire. Are those cordial differences of opinion, or are you actually mutually resentful of the other team’s methods? It’s relevant for many reasons, not the least of which being that perhaps the school district was trying to kill some sort of rivalry that it didn’t like.

Was the team’s equipment actually school district property? (For example, paid for with school funds, or donated to the school explicitly, perhaps in writing.) Or was it not clearly theirs to take away? (For example, bought by mentors or parents out of their own personal funds, and given to the school on the condition,1 perhaps in writing, that it be used for 3456.) If and only if it’s not the school’s property free and clear, there may be a nuclear option available: you could sue them for conversion, or rather, provide a strongly-worded letter suggesting you might do just that.2 If you can honestly say that it appears to be an instance of official corruption, or deliberate malfeasance, talk with the other mentors about making some discreet inquiries in this direction. But if the school really does own the property, that effort will fail.

There are also plenty of political remedies available, but they may come with political consequences for the teachers who are trying to maintain their day jobs. Assuming the school board holds public meetings with an opportunity for open comment, I’m sure they’ll enjoy having to withstand direct criticism at their next meeting. And doubly so during the next election cycle. If, in the big picture, it makes more sense to break the board’s resolve, then this might be worth discussing. I’m not always a fan of political theatrics, but they have their place.

But beware: it’s not unlikely that accepting the school district’s decision ends up being the most beneficial solution once their expected perpetual intransigence is taken into account. Maybe you’re in the best position already—moving on.

1 An “onerous gift” is one that comes with strings explicitly attached. If you accept the gift, you accept the conditions.
2 There’s actually another option—the blow up the Sun option: you could file criminal charges. Don’t do this. Given the description you’ve supplied, it’s kind of cruel, not remotely worth it, and you’ll almost certainly fail.

Your website mentions that you moved into a build space at a mall. Was that space donated or supplied by the school in anyway? Is the tooling in that space the property of the school district?

Also why did you have to give up your team number?

I have empathy for your situation, it just seems really bizarre, the circumstances. I’m sure you are just as confused as we are.

Hey Dirk-
We are going to see what we can do. I’ll talk to our coaches to see what kind of extra parts we have and send them your way. I seriously can’t believe that your school district would cut you guys, especially after such an awesome season last year. If you have any other specifics on the things you guys need, let us know. I’m really sorry and I realy hope we can help. Keep up the goOd work.
-Kinney, FRC Team 2486, the CocoNuts

Just a thought to tuck away in your mind as you thing through this, actually two thoughts.

  1. material assets such as tools, robots, etc are relatively minor things to lose. reaquiring those things is just a task to do ( not trying to overly minimize that )

  2. Losing buy in from the school system is the huge loss here. That is a big problem from a societal / educational viewpoint. We may as well get rid of indoor plumbing and electricity. Especially when the team is self funded.

I do not really understand all the legal system involved here, but I believe I have seen others on CD comment on this similarly. If a corporation gives money to a team to be used for a specific purpose, or if you had money from a specific grant, that money MUST be used for the same purpose as it was given. You said the money your team had leftover was reallocated to other teams: if that money came from your sponsors, you could ask them to get involved to ask for the money to be either returned or given to your team.

*I could be completely wrong here. If I am, please correct me.

Yes, money was given to a school for team use and the money was probably used for team purposes.

However, it is general practice in most school districts that the school owns the property.

Who owns the property is a different issue than what the money was used for.

I don’t know if I can help or offer an idea here. But my recommendation is, if you do succeed in reestablishing a team, register yourselves as a nonprofit organization. That way, you are no longer tied to the school and they cannot legally take anything away from you. As someone mentioned earlier, make the rest of your community aware of this situation. Draw attention from a local news station and parents. You may even go so far to protest the district’s actions publicly.

We still haven’t gotten clarification of where the equipment and supplies came from. After a two minute Google search I found the biggest problem you have. By becoming a group with the school you entered a contract with the school as a School Activity Fund group. Per this document you have absolutely no recourse here whatsoever.

Specifically - "5. Materials and equipment purchased by student activity funds become District property. "

I’m sorry to say this, but the district is following their guidelines to a T. Taking everything away and shutting down an educational group is a terrible way for a school to work, but maybe someone on the board of trustees didn’t like something you were doing as a group. If that is the kind of environment you were in, I would consider you lucky to be forced out of it. Sounds like it was a toxic relationship from the way communication was/is handled and general treatment was/is addressed.

It sounds like you were extremely successful in that environment, there is no telling what you are capable of once you are free of that mess.

Our offer still stands if you need a hand, distance or not we’d hate to see another young team suffer at someone else’s doing. Just let me know what you might need and we can see if we can work out a care package.

They may have had the legal right to do so, but were their actions justified? If they gave a response to the constant pleas from team members and parents, maybe their was reason for their actions, but from the information gathered here it seems that it was done completely without cause.

My team, the “Kell Robotics Team” is administratively a school club. Historically the money came into the school as a club contribution, school accounting handled the money, and the property became the schools. The money is school activity funds.

All of that has changed. We recently created a 501©3 non-profit public interest corporation, the Kell Robotics Foundation.

501©3 corporations can be public, or private. We are public.

Public 501©3 corporations can be a

  1. a booster type of thing, where most money comes from fundraising, club dues, modest contributions, typical examples are sports and band boosters.
  2. a public charity, where most money comes from outside donations. A good example of this is FIRST.

Most boosters are type (1) and provide single-entity support. In other words if the boosted club ceases existence, then the booster is no longer needed.

We elected to do type (2) multi-entity support organization because much of the work we do goes outside of our team and impacts teams all across the region. This gives us the legal latitude to spend money on other teams as part of our outreach. If the Kell Robotics Team (club) ceased to exist at school, the Kell Robotics Foundation and the Kell Robotics Innovation Center can exist in perpetuity, and the Kell Robotics Team could continue to exist as a non-school entity if there was demand.

It is a hedge against this type of action described in the OP. It gives the foundation ownership of the equipment.

It allows the foundation to bequeath the assets to FIRST, or GeorgiaFIRST, or their designee. Meaning if the foundation closed the doors the equipment goes to other FIRST teams and not locked into a warehouse like you see in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And the foundation can often get to a broader range of funding than a school can.

Having said all of that, the best option is for the school to fully embrace the team and fund it. The 2nd best option is for the school to at least celebrate the team and let it self fund.

I’m not crazy about every team going and creating a 501©3 but it is done by most sports, and fine arts clubs at schools everywhere so there you go.

But I would take special note as to how it is filed in the IRS 1023 Part X.


But did they have the moral right ?

I wish we knew the** back story** as the press calls it.

Not to be rude, but that’s what I said in the rest of my comment.