Lawrence Township Schools cut money for after-school buses from its transportation fund, but the school foundation helped keep the buses running.
The Lawrence Township School Foundation is one of 58 that are part of a statewide organization of nonprofits that raise funds to bolster programs in their respective school districts.
Like most districts, Lawrence Township already has cut millions of dollars from its budget, but foundation leaders said that clarifies their role in the Northeastside district.
“We are responding to needs with things being cut in public education,” said Caryn Goo, foundation spokeswoman. “The school district has more needs than their classrooms. We are proactive; we can prevent the loss in the district.”
The foundation, established in 1983, is one of the oldest in the state and was founded with money from the Lilly Endowment. For nearly three decades, the foundation has given teachers grants for classroom projects, such as outfitting math classes with scientific calculators.
Now the role has shifted somewhat. While still handing out grants, the foundation funds such needs as the buses for after-school programs.
The foundation is a member of the Indiana Association of Public Education Foundations, which provides support, resources and networking opportunities for foundation leaders.
Each foundation raises money differently, but most hold large fundraising events, accept individual and corporate donations and apply for grants.
“Foundations are getting a lot more attention because people are looking for solutions to increase achievement and, ultimately, for our students,” said Leah McGrath, a spokeswoman for the statewide organization.
Because many of the 58 foundations raise money for larger school districts, the organization supports about half of Indiana’s public school population, McGrath said.
“Each foundation sets goals for giving to enrich the educational experience for students and teachers,” she said.
Most provide teacher classroom grants, McGrath said. Some give scholarships or support district or schoolwide programs that couldn’t function without a boost from the foundation.
Many also partner with DonorsChoose.org, an online site in which teachers can request grants that are matched by their school foundations.
The majority of the foundations in Indiana were formed before the decline in the economy and the cutting of school budgets. Leaders of foundations are reassessing roles as potential stopgaps for holes that could be left by budget cuts. Most foundations plan to continue providing grants for individual classrooms, schools or programs.
The Indianapolis Public Schools Public Education Foundation awards classroom grants ranging from $100 to $5,000, said Joe Smith, foundation spokesman.
The IPS foundation also funds wider-reaching programs, such as giving $65,000 since 2007 to help families buy school uniforms and providing money to various schools for take-home libraries, which provide reading resources for students.
“We are very aware that the money we raise serves as an extension of the district,” Smith said.
The foundation hasn’t kept track of total giving since being established in 1984, but it currently hands out about $50,000 per year.
A newer foundation is the Southern Hancock Education Foundation, which was formed in the spring as a direct result of budget cuts, said spokesman Randy Faunce.
A referendum that would have brought in $1.5 million a year for seven years failed Nov. 2.
“Without new income to replace even more pending cuts (through property tax caps), classes will be overcrowded at all grade levels, programs will be cut, bus service further curtailed or even eliminated, advanced classes and college prep electives cut,” Faunce said.
He believes that with teacher layoffs looming, those remaining will have time to teach only core classes. Extras, such as performing arts and advanced classes, would be cut, he said.
“The dumbing down of our education will begin, and not just here, but all over Indiana,” Faunce said.
The volunteer board’s “pie in the sky” goal is to raise $3 million for the foundation, which could help save some programs. More realistically, after consulting nearby foundations, Faunce would like to bring in $10,000 to $20,000 per year through solicited contributions.
Also in the aftermath of a failed referendum, the Zionsville Education Foundation is examining its role in the Boone County district.
Since 2004, it has awarded more than $400,000 in grants to Zionsville schools, Executive Director Lynn Kissel said.
For 15 years, it has provided Zionsville teachers with grants ranging from $350 to $17,000 for professional development, which has been cut from many districts, as well as for classroom projects and student clubs. The largest grant helped start the high school’s new robotics class, which hosted a 55-team invitational Nov. 20.
“If they didn’t have a foundation to go to, we just wouldn’t have those programs or clubs,” said Julie Redman, board president of the Zionsville organization.
Even with the help, the district is facing more than $5 million in budget cuts.
“We are starting a dialogue with the school leadership team to see if ZEF could be of any support,” Redman said.
In just five years, the Decatur Township Educational Foundation has made itself known on the Southwestside, said Patty Poehler, executive director.
“We are so new compared to other foundations, we are working on establishing an endowment,” Poehler said. “An endowment would establish our permanence.”
The foundation has given more than 150 grants, such as the one that pays for a mobile phone so a middle-school math teacher can be on call each night for student questions with homework. Another grant is paying for students studying “The Diary of Anne Frank” to see a production of a play based on the book at the Indiana