Helping Hands: Supplementing Summit County Schools
At the end of last March, the Summit School District held a large, community-wide meeting to announce upcoming budget cuts. Meeting attendee and Breckenridge resident Chris Renner -concerned about the $800,000 being slashed from the district’s resources – went home that night, hopped on the Internet, and started researching ways to infuse private money into public schools. Within 24 hours, he had incorporated the Summit Education Foundation.
The Summit Education Foundation raises funds to provide financial support to meet academic needs beyond the current scope and means of the school system. Renner said he wanted the foundation to be supportive of the entire district.
“This was not just for one school, it was for all the schools,” he said.
Renner – who has two boys at Breckenridge Elementary – started rallying friends to become involved, and received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“Everyone was supportive and appeared to be waiting for someone to launch something like this so they could get involved,” he said.
The state of Colorado currently ranks 49th in the country for spending per student based on household income. Renner said because Colorado is spending less and less, it’s important for the public to get involved.
There are 4,000 individual education foundations around the U.S. Some are set up as an arm of the school district, while others are completely independent. Renner said they decided on a hybrid of the two; they are completely separate from the district, but have one school board member serving on their own board. That way, Renner said they can closely align raising money and supporting the district with needs identified by someone who know what’s going on within the system.
The board of directors also includes representatives from each school in the district to ensure a close relationship and coordinated approach in enhancing education. In addition to the board of directors, the foundation has a board of advisors made up of influential members from across the community. The advisors provide support and advocacy for the nonprofit throughout their areas. Multiple teachers from each school also serve as “ambassadors” for the group – facilitating communication and strengthening the foundation’s understanding of each school’s individual needs.
The foundation started raising funds the first week of last April. By the end of last May, they had acquired $24,000 to help teachers with back-to-school needs. The money was divided up equally between each school. Renner noted that many teachers – already underpaid in his opinion – often end up paying for such expenses out-of-pocket.
Renner said the foundation was integral to the passing of the mill levy override this past fall. The initiative provides $2.1 million a year, every year, towards the school district’s budget. He said they were able to gain support through their email list of 1,200 parents, teachers and community members.
“That was a huge success,” Renner said.
Also this past fall, the school district approached the foundation to help fund the online portion of the newly implemented Everyday Mathematics program. The first year of the curriculum was free for the online section, but $14,000 for the following year. Renner said they raised $5,800 in grants through the towns of Frisco, Breckenridge and Silverthorne and made up the remaining balance with $8,000 of their own funds.
The education foundation raises money through different projects or initiatives, like its upcoming adult spelling bee April 30. Their nonprofit, tax-exempt status allows them to procure funds for anything centered around the school district’s needs. Renner said anything that provides educational excellence to the students is considered for funding.
“We are not only providing dollars, but I think we are also providing positive energy and hope for our school district in that we do desire to make a difference,” Renner said.
He said he also sees the foundation’s role as a promoter for the positive things the school district is doing on their own.
Julie McCluskie, climate and communications coordinator for the Summit School District and member of the foundation’s board of advisors, said the school district is very grateful to the parents and community members that joined together to help Summit schools.
“We appreciate the funds the Summit Foundation has been able to raise, and look forward to the partnership growing in the months and years to come,” she said.
“It certainly takes a village to raise our kids,” Renner said. “What I provide my own kids I desire to be provided to all of our students. This isn’t about us driving over the hill to go to school in Vail, and its not about us finding alternative ways to educate our kids. Its about providing the best possible opportunities to all of our students in the school system, and that opportunity should be provided equally.”
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