Schools advisory panel is sought

Superintendent begins process to select diverse group of board members for system's foundation


Moving forward with the creation of an educational foundation to raise funds, the Carroll schools superintendent faces the delicate task of selecting an advisory board that would be committed to equitably distributing the money to the most appropriate projects.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has begun the process of selecting up to 15 people from throughout the community to sit on the panel that will raise money from private contributors and then determine which projects - unfunded or underfunded in the system's budget - it should sponsor.

"We want a cross-section that'll include business people, geographic representation, some parents and some school people," Ecker said. "I don't have any educational qualifications; it just has to be someone with interest in the school system."

With school systems having to do more with less state and federal funding, educational foundations have been springing up around the country.

Nearly 5,000 school systems nationally have developed such foundations, some of which have raised millions of dollars for projects that might otherwise have gone by the wayside.

"They're invaluable, especially in light of state and federal budget cuts for education," said Jodi Bender-Sweeney, president of the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools in Wisconsin, who is working on establishing a national association for such groups. "Besides raising money, they also help to educate people about the school system."

Thanks to Bender-Sweeney's foundation, $3.2 million has been pumped into the Madison school system of 25,000 students during the past five years. That money has been used for such endeavors as the financing of a high school project that allows students to build an airplane as they learn physics and engineering.

Local school officials point to an educational foundation as a way not only to raise money for worthwhile projects, but also to increase opportunities for the community to have a hand in the success of its schools, said Robin Kable, coordinator of business and community partnerships for Carroll County schools.

`Near the bottom'

"Carroll County ranks near the bottom [among the state's 24 school systems] in per-pupil funding, and lots of school projects are not able to get funded," Kable said. "The goal is to be able to provide funding for educational purposes. ... The more we can bring the public into the school system, that's a great thing."

Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties also have developed educational foundations to help pay for school projects. In Baltimore County, which has had a foundation since 1992, money has been raised to build a greenhouse at Towson High School and provide college scholarships.

Howard County is in the process of creating one and hopes to have it established by the end of the school year, said school board Chairman Courtney Watson.

Kable, who has spent the past year working on the idea of establishing an educational foundation, said Carroll's foundation would function separately from the school system.

Ecker has recommended that the advisory board submit two reports a year to the school board to inform the system's leaders and the public about the foundation's activities.

Kable said that at least one school board member would be asked to serve on the board as a nonvoting representative.

To minimize conflicts of interest, "no one from the school [central office staff] would be a voting member of the advisory board," Kable said.

Initially, the Carroll County Public Schools Educational Foundation will be administered by the Community Foundation of Carroll County, a nonprofit organization that receives, invests and distributes funds for charitable, cultural and educational purposes throughout the county.

Having the Community Foundation manage the educational foundation will save set-up and administrative costs and allow the educational foundation to gain its footing, Kable said.

In time, it is hoped that the educational foundation will become an independent nonprofit organization and be managed directly by its advisory board, she said.

"When it would become a separate nonprofit depends on how successful we are," Kable said. "But hopefully it would be sooner than later."

Kable said she would consider the foundation "very successful" if it raises from $10,000 to $50,000 in its first year. "If you have a successful foundation, it can grow upon itself," she said.

A distinction

Kable pointed to another financial distinction of an educational foundation that can benefit the school system. She said that although the district is a nonprofit organization, it lacks a specific nonprofit status that would enable it to apply for certain kinds of grants.

"The foundation, once it becomes [501c3 nonprofit organization], will be able to write for those grants" and tap into a reservoir of funding for which the school system can't directly apply, she said.

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