Author: By Patricia Nealon, Globe StaffIn a decision that would please Benjamin Franklin -- while threatening the survival of the technical school named for him -- the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday that the city of Boston and the state, not the private Franklin Institute of Boston, are entitled to nearly $5 million in trust funds remaining from Benjamin Franklin's estate. The decision ends more than 30 years of controversy and closes the final chapter in the matter of the final wishes expressed by Franklin more than 200 years ago. (No!! See Dr. Sarah's comments in red below for a more recent update!)
Date: 12/07/1993 Page: 22
Yesterday, the SJC ruled that the trust, in accordance with Franklin's wishes, had expired on June 30, 1991, and that the remaining money should go to the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts -- as stipulated by Franklin.
The state will receive roughly three-quarters of the money and the city will get the rest. Both have appointed commissions to determine how it is to be spent.
Franklin, trained as a printer, was born in Boston and attended grammar school here.
According to a codicil to Franklin's 1790 will, the sum of 1,000 pounds was left to the city (then the town) of Boston. The money was to be used to provide low-interest loans to young, married apprentice craftsmen to help them set up their own businesses.
The money was to be used for that purpose for 100 years. In the following century, the bulk of the money was to be used for "public works."
In 1893, the fund managers allocated $322,490, which in 1905 was used to start the Franklin Union, a technical school "designed to train young people for supervisory positions in industry."
The remainder of the trust's funds were to be used to continue the loan program for needy young apprentices; in recent years that money has been used for loans for medical students.
At the end of the second 100 years, according to the will, the trust funds were to be given to the city of Boston and the state, "not presuming to carry my views farther."
At issue in the case before the SJC was a 1958 law passed by the Legislature, but never enacted, which terminated the trust early and gave the remaining funds not to the city or the state but to the Franklin Institute of Boston, the former Franklin Union. A 1960 SJC ruling nullified the statute, but attorneys for the school argued that the court had only ruled on giving the money to the school early.
The school, located on Berkeley Street in the South End, had counted on the getting the money to stay afloat.
"We live hand to mouth every day, every semester," school president Richard D'Onofrio said yesterday. "That is why this is such a blow to us. We've been waiting 34 years for this, thinking, 'This is our endowment.' "
D'Onofrio said the 300-student school, which specializes in engineering and industrial technologies, gets no federal, state or city funding and relies entirely on tuition payments of $8,090-per-student for operating income.
"This decision will clearly have an effect on the future of the institution," said D'Onofrio. More than half the students are minorities, he said, nearly 70 percent are economically disadvantaged and a quarter are learning English as a second language.
Assistant Attorney General Richard C. Allen said the decision "enables the completion of the trust in accordance with the original words of Benjamin Franklin."
The attorney general's office represented the state in the case and was also named as a defendant because the office overseas charitable funds, Allen said. Allen said the decision was important "because it will show donors that their wishes will be carried out."
Dr. Sarah's Update: I spoke to Dean Boyd at the Franklin Institute of Boston. He informed me that while the state Supreme Court did rule that the city and state should get the money instead of the Franklin Institute, the legislature then passed a law to give the money to the institute. The governor signed the law and the institute did indeed receive the funds, and is doing fine.