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Public schools foundation could benefit Roswell; Official: Initiative could raise funds for RISD and help donors target specific priorities

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This graphic shows facts about K12 public school foundations that the Roswell Independent School District is debating about. (Submitted Graphic)

Could a K12 public school foundation for Roswell be what teachers and students need to boost learning outcomes?

Roswell Independent School District Interim Superintendent Susan Sanchez and Board of Education members discussed the possibility of a foundation briefly at a recent board meeting when questions arose about reductions in some categories of state funding.
Sidney Gutierrez Middle School, like many other charter schools in the nation, has a charitable foundation, but the Roswell school district as a whole does not.
Although New Mexico does not have a lot of nonprofit charitable groups specifically dedicated to K-12 schools, the ones that do exist provide millions of dollars a year to public school teachers, students and programs to supplement state funding.
Phill Casaus, executive director of the Albuquerque Public Schools Education Foundation, said he thinks Roswell leaders would be wise to consider a foundation.
“It is certainly a worthwhile topic: If you are in Roswell, how can you help your school district get better? ” said Casaus.
He said foundations not only raise funds for public schools, they can coalesce donors toward united goals. He explained that school districts resemble department stores, offering a little bit of everything, which can mean charitable donations are spread thin among many needs. A foundation can help direct funds to targeted priorities.
“I think most people intrinsically want to help public schools,” Casaus said, “but there are a lot of different ways they can give. One thing I tell them is, the more you help this foundation, the more we can help programs and schools that you might not even know about.”
Casaus said that the APS Education Foundation provided about $500,000 in unrestricted funds to APS schools last year and administered an estimated $1.5 million in trust and endowed funds to schools for specific purposes, such as music education.
The APS foundation is one of at least six public school district foundations in the state and, according to information on the National School Foundation Association website, among more than 4,800 nationwide. The APS Education Foundation ranked 15th among the nation’s top 50 K-12 school foundations by a 2016 Caruthers Institute study titled “Stepping Up.”
According to the “Stepping Up” report, which draws on reports foundations file with the Internal Revenue Service, public K-12 education foundations nationwide raised $359 million in revenues in 2014 and coordinated the efforts of 45,000 volunteers.
Other public school foundations in New Mexico include the Rio Rancho Education Foundation, the Las Cruces Public Schools Foundation, the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation, the Taos Public Education Fund and the Partners in Education Foundation in Santa Fe.
The APS Education Foundation, started in 1995, operates with a memorandum of agreement with the school district, but it is an independent charitable nonprofit organization, with its own governance and board of directors. It serves all preK-12 schools in the district, which number more than 140, Casaus said.
Santa Fe’s Partners in Education Foundation is completely independent of the school district it serves, said Executive Director Ruth Ann Greeley.
Originally, it started as part of the Community Foundation of Santa Fe. That group also raises money for public schools and educational programs through its Dollars4School program, which has received more than $591,000 over seven years.
Partners in Education, which has existed as an organization for about 28 years and as a foundation since 2007, serves 30 preK-12 schools in the capital city area, said Greeley.
Among the funding programs are teacher grants and teacher awards, field trips, up to $500 in scholarships for district employees wanting to earn a credential or degree in education and a supply warehouse where businesses and individuals have donated everything from crayons to telescopes for classroom use.
Sidney Gutierrez Middle School in Roswell, like many other public charter schools, has an independent foundation dedicated to it.
“They were set up to assist us, provide support for our academic programs should we need it,” said Principal Joseph Andreis. “It is there as a safety net that would provide us money if we need it.”
Andreis said that, so far in its 16-year history, the school has had adequate state funding.
But educators statewide have voiced concern about what will happen to district resources if the state requires cuts to school budgets during the upcoming academic year as it did in 2016-17.
Dr. David Else, formerly of the Institute for Educational Leadership at the University of Northern Iowa, wrote in a research article published on the National School Foundation Association website that foundations increasingly play a crucial role in many cities and states and can be key to making schools more equitable.
“It is … incumbent on schools throughout the nation to look for sources of funding to supplement those received from public sources or from tuition income raised to support private schools,” he said. His article cites research that indicates an additional $20 per student in funding makes an improvement and an additional $40 per student can produce substantive change.
Else wrote that public school foundations varied in size and structure but had some common characteristics. “Developing and sustaining successful foundations requires expertise, community support, strong school-community relationships and common commitment.”
Greeley and Casaus agreed that the conversation about a public school foundation for Roswell is a good step.
“I think it can be a great way for people who want to do something to help the schools in their community,” said Greeley. “The letters we get from teachers and parents tell us that we are making a difference. We have put millions of dollars into our schools.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.