Public schools to go for private dollars

Bainbridge schools have joined the growing ranks of Washington school districts that seek private funding.

District officials and community members have announced formation of the Bainbridge Island Public Educational Trust, an independent nonprofit organization to raise money for local schools.

“I don’t believe that Washington state is funding basic education when I walk into a classroom and a teacher asks me for reams of paper,” school board President Cheryl Dale said. “As a community, we can’t sit back until March of every year and wait to see what the state cuts.

“We have to take control ourselves.”

The new non-profit is allied with the schools, but will remain an independent entity. The trust will be housed in the district and have a board comprised of community members and school officials, teachers or district employees.

In forming an educational trust, Bainbridge is following the lead of other Washington schools. As state funding shrinks, such third-party groups have stepped into the breach to forge supportive community and private sector relationships with public schools.

The local districts Bainbridge uses for comparisons, including Bellevue, Mercer Island, Issaquah, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap, Northshore and Snohomish, all have educational trusts.

“We’re actually five to eight years behind other school districts,” Dale said.

Developing alternative sources of funding has been on the horizon since the goal was identified in the first drafts of Vision 2010, the schools’ long-range planning begun in 1999, Bainbridge school Superintendent Steve Rowley said.

Dale, Rowley and Doug Picha, former school board member and executive director for the Children’s Hospital Foundation and Guild Association, began work on developing the educational trust in 2000.

They filed for articles of incorporation this past January, using $5,000 seed money donated by Woodward Middle School paraeducator Tanya Lundgaard, who grew up on Bainbridge and graduated from BHS in 1974.

The trio planned a funding organization to augment, rather than supplant, other groups now in place, like the Parent Teacher Organizations and Bainbridge Education Support Team.

“What we developed is in no way in competition with BEST,” Rowley said. “We won’t be duplicating their efforts. In fact, we discussed our ideas with them.”

Implementing an educational trust now is timely, in light of cuts to education in the supplemental Legislative budget – and as the Bainbridge district loses ground in funding compared to other districts.

According to data from the Office for the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Bainbridge has dropped from 268th to 272nd out of 296 state school districts in the level of combined funding from all sources.

“In the past we’ve always said that PTOs and even trusts were supplementary income,” Dale said. “Now, it’s no longer about alternative funding for extras, it’s about finding alternative funding for basic education.” While the educational trust will raise money for the district from corporations and foundations, Dale said that individual contributions will be key.

The new fund will also set aside monies for matching grants.

“In the past when we have gotten grant money, we’ve either scrambled for the matching funds or walked away,” Dale said.

Three years ago, she said, Bainbridge schools couldn’t take advantage of a $200,000 grant for science kits because the district couldn’t find the $70,000 in matching funds.

Money from the trust will be used for upgrading technology; training teachers in best practices; developing programs for the full range of students from remedial to gifted; recognizing outstanding student and teacher achievement; and establishing a permanent endowment.

All scholarships will be managed by the trust, although existing guidelines for established scholarships will not change.

There will be a mechanism for planned giving and memorial trusts. There will also be “targeted giving” so donors can choose how they want their money spent.

“We will definitely have special events and some form of donor recognition,” Dale said. “They will be very well-recognized in the community.”

The educational trust, like other local education funds, will resemble the higher education model of giving, with alumni elicited for funds and an emphasis on grant-writing.

Seeking private money in higher education has sometimes created problems, setting department against department in competition for the funds. The sciences traditionally fare better than the humanities when it comes to getting grants.

Dale said that the district will bypass such dilemmas by encouraging both targeted and untargeted giving.

“We’ll start with need at the building level and then come to the fund-raising once we know what they want,” she said. “At the beginning of each year, we’ll decide what the focus areas are.”

The executive committee, comprised of Craig Aird, Mendy Droke, Cynti Oshin, Staci Brawner, Eileen Black, Mike Louden and Lori Miller, will present the foundation to the school board at the end of April and initiate a “founders’ drive.” The committee expect to receive 501(c)3 status by mid-July.

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve worked on,” Dale said, “because we’re going to look back and know that we changed education on Bainbridge.”

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