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Bake Sales for Science Labs

A Journal News Editorial

Rockland districts’ late foray into establishing school foundations comes in the nick of time. Property taxpayers are stretched to the limits, yet schools must still offer sophisticated programs to help prepare students to enter a competitive marketplace.

High school band booster clubs, elementary school PTAs and other local efforts have long raised money for those “extras,” from field trips to office equipment

Foundations, like Ramapo Central school district’s REACH – Resource for Expanding Academics and Community Horizons – can fund extras that would be unlikely to make it into heavily scrutinized school budgets, amenities like landscaping for elementary schools, and a high school amphitheater. The decade-old organization also offers grants for teachers and student scholarships.

Foundations also can boost educational endeavors for a district. The newly formed Foundation to Inspire Excellence in Nyack Schools funded the expansion of a popular robotics program that started a few years ago for middle schoolers, so all students, even the youngest pupils, could take a turn at exploring science in a fun environment.

Foundations also can boost educational endeavors for a district. The newly formed Foundation to Inspire Excellence in Nyack Schools funded the expansion of a popular robotics program that started a few years ago for middle schoolers, so all students, even the youngest pupils, could take a turn at exploring science in a fun environment.

They allow a whole new level of volunteerism – writing grants, seeking corporate funding – that can get communities engaged in their local schools. They can also take some pressure off public school budgets, which must get the voters to approve their spending plans each year. In a tight economy, paying for more than the minimum becomes an increasingly hard sell.

“What a foundation does for us is to -not supplement, but add additional things we would not be able to do within our budget,” Dobbs Ferry schools Superintendent Debra Kaplan told to staff writer Randi Weiner this week. Her district has seen a $4.5 million contribution since its foundation formed in 1994. Real learning tools – a math lab at the middle school is just one – have been the result.

Where do foundations fit in the educational funding scheme? They are becoming a necessary charity that fills in the gaps that local taxpayers are less willing, and often unable, to provide. As Albany continues to foot-drag on instituting true school funding reforms, communities will continue to step in to ensure their school districts maintain quality through such innovations as foundations. Too bad state legislators weren’t so innovative during last month’s special session, in which they took a pass at getting the ball rolling on real property tax reform.

While parents, local businesses and school board members can support their school district by forming a foundation, we need more than charity to fix this mess. The state Legislature needs to be pushed to do its part, too. That starts with enacting a property tax cap, followed by a “circuit breaker” formula to ensure homeowners don’t lose huge chunks of their income to school property taxes, and followed up with state reforms of mandates that pass on costs to overburdened districts.

Foundations may be parental involvement on steroids, but now, New York’s schools – and the property taxpayers who support them – need all the breathing room they can provide.

Copyright © The Journal News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the Gannett Co., Inc.