December 10, 2009
Helping teachers when budgets cannot
Education foundations give needed money for projects that might not otherwise receive it
Chad Totman wanted to find ways last year to teach elementary school students how to be active during the winter not just in school but at home.
The Wii Sports and Wii Fit computer programs made by Nintendo seemed promising. The devices require players to use their limbs and bodies as if playing a game or running outdoors.
But with school budgets tight and in danger from state aid cuts the past year, Totman — the physical education teacher at Hartnett Elementary School in Truxton, part of the Homer district — knew he would have a difficult time finding money.
He and Homer Elementary teachers Mark Ferrito and Allison Cook applied for a $600 grant from the Homer Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that provides money for Homer Central School ed ucation programs when the general budget cannot. The foundation’s grant committee approved the money and the teachers purchased the two Wii devices.
The Homer and Cortland school districts have foundations, separate from the district itself, that raise money and provide grants for teachers who want to try something innovative in their classes.
The Homer foundation also provides some scholarship money to graduating seniors. The Cortland foundation does not.
The Homer Educational Foundation gave out nine grants totaling $4,667 in the 2008-09 school year. The other grants paid for a range of materials and technology for classroom use.
The Cortland Public Education Foundation gives out as many as eight grants per year of up to $1,000 apiece.
Each foundation is managed by a board of directors, with school superintendents and other officials as nonvoting members.
Such foundations have existed at colleges, hospitals and other institutions for many years but are relatively new for public school districts.
Cortland’s began seven years ago, the brainchild of John Lutz, superintendent of schools at the time. Homer’s began in 2005.
“Dr. Lutz gathered some good community people and brought some volunteers together,” said Andrew Polley, president of Cortland’s foundation board of directors. “At first we had to find the money for envelopes and stationery. It grew from a meager beginning and it’s still tough. We don’t use any tax dollars.”
The idea for having a foundation came from districts in Western New York, such as Rush-Henrietta outside Rochester, said Michael Falls, Hartnett Elementary principal, who coordinates Homer’s foundation.
The Cortland foundation uses a golf tournament as its main fundraiser. It also seeks donations from other foundations and from individuals, usually raising about $10,000 per year.
Polley, an investment officer for Wells Fargo Advisors whose two daughters attend Cortland High School, said the foundation is now trying to attract $10,000 endowments from contributors.
“We feel our mission is very critical right now,” Polley said. “Schools are getting a trickle-down effect from state budget cuts.”
The Homer foundation has three main fundraisers: a golf tournament, volleyball tournament and 5-kilometer race. It raises about $30,000 per year.
Groton Central School has a fund, housed in the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, that is used for the same purpose. This is the third year the fund has given grants to teachers.
That fund is not a foundation, as Superintendent of Schools Brenda Myers is the chair. The fund recently awarded grants of $300 to $385 to three teachers.
The Groton Education Fund raises money through several events and sells bricks on a Memory Garden next to the high school track, where people can give a brick in memory of someone. Myers said the Memory Garden brings in $2,000 to $3,000 per year.
Totman said he already used a computer program called Dance Dance Revolution to get his students moving. Ferrito, Cook and he applied for the grant to buy the Wii devices.
They used Wii Sports once last spring, after the grant also paid for the installation, and have used it a great deal this fall, lending it to physical education teachers in other Homer school buildings.
“One parent came in and saw it, said he’d never seen his child move so much, and he bought one for Christmas,” Totman said.
“Some students already had these Wii games at home, and they show other kids how to use them,” said Cook. “The kids love them.”
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