Educational Foundations Plug School Funding Gaps

By Greg Cergol
|  Thursday, Sep 30, 2010  |  Updated 6:00 PM EDT
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Even in a quiet art class at an Oakdale middle school, the lesson has been drilled home: money for education is tight.

"The reality is, you need money to do anything," said teacher Irene Jordan.

Jordan and colleague Danielle DePalma-Romero were pushing an extracurricular art project to beautify a drab courtyard just outside their classes; but cash was in short supply.

"Using our own budget, a project like this would never be possible," said DePalma-Romero.

Enter CFAC.

CFAC is an acronym for the Connetquot Foundation for the Advancement of Children. It's a non-profit foundation that funds school projects the local district can't afford.  In six years, CFAC has doled out some sixty thousand dollars to the district's 10 schools.

"We lift up children and give them opportunities they wouldn't normally have," said CFAC board member Dr. Donna Ciampa. 

CFAC is not alone.

One hundred fifty of these so-called educational foundations have been formed in recent years across NY, educators say.  And in the wake of state education aid cuts reportedly total ling a hundred million dollars on Long Island alone, interest in forming new foundations is building.

"We're at the point now where districts are seeking funds wherever they can find them," said Eastern Suffolk BOCES chief operating officer, Gary Bixhorn.

Foundations fund raise in their local communities through things like fashion shows and golf outings. The foundation boards then decide which school projects to fund with the cash.

"Most of the money is used for extracurricular activities," said Brian Butry of the New York State School Boards Association. 

Sports teams are funded; school TV studios built.  In Syracuse, the local education foundation raised a million dollars to pay for a new turf athletic field that local taxpayers had refused to fund, according to Butry.

"Donors are interested in supporting education," reads a promotional article distributed by the School Boards Association. The recent one hundred million dollar donation from Facebook's founder to the Newark schools seems to bear out that claim.

With more of that in mind, the School Boards Association is now offering seminars on how to set-up and operate a school foundation.  Foundations have long played a role in helping fund scholarships and programs at private universities; but now, experts hope to use that model to help elementary and high schools.

"It's going to be more and more of a necessity unless funding issues change," said Dr. Ciampa. "It's not a bad thing to get everyone involved in education."

The only downside, education experts warm, is that not every community has the means to support an educational foundation; so, the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" of education could grow wider.

After a rigorous application process, art teachers Irene Jordan and Danielle DePalma-Romero won a five thousand dollar grant from CFAC for their courtyard project at Oakdale-Bohemia middle school. 

Students and local contractors then donated their time over four months to complete the transformation.  Vibrant  murals of lighthouses and landscapes now cover the courtyard's walls; colorful benches, bright flowers and a red brick walkway now make it a place of respite for teachers and students alike.

"We didn't know if it was going to be possible, with the economy the way it is," said DePalma-Romero. "The generosity has been amazing."

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