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From tutors to musical instruments to tablets, education foundations help schools fill in the gaps

Groups aren't boosters, nor part of districts
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Nov 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-10 12:00:07-05

FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- "All the cool kids are smart."

That’s what Amy Shaffer, president of the Fort Thomas Education Foundation, said of its 16-year impact on that district's students. It's what the foundation wanted to see happen when it organized in 2000.

"It's a culture of valuing education (in Fort Thomas)," she said. "It's a community that wants to give back."
 
It’s just one example of the importance of education foundations across Greater Cincinnati. Many districts have some kind of outside support, from Fort Thomas to Mariemont to Mason and Anderson Township, to name a few, said Dee Stone, executive director of the Forest Hills Foundation for Education.
  
But what does an education foundation do?
   
Foundations are not booster clubs, which are usually tied to an activity such as football or band, for example, said Bill Lyon, president of the Forest Hills Foundation for Education. They're intentionally separate from the school district, he said.
    
What they do instead is help reduce the gap in funding -- short term, that means money invested in after-school programs or after-school busing, he said. Long term, foundations look at endowments to help fill needs when state or local help is reduced, as it was during the last recession.
     
Foundations are not part of the district, or their budget, he said. Instead they work with the district to meets needs when budgets don't cover expenses.
      
Lyon and others want to see their foundations grow financially to provide better education for the students in their districts.
       
"Fort Thomas is a model for a lot of the rest of us," said Lyon. "They’re fairly new and serving a broad population. It's a great success story."

In Northern Kentucky, Fort Thomas is seen as the school with the money. That can partially be credited to higher property values than in other cities, but also to the education foundation's work to bring more programs into the schools. The district gets less than 40 percent of its operating budget from the state.
        
Shaffer said an existing group that didn't have much traction was reformed in 2000. For 10 years, the foundation focused on raising $10 million to upgrade and add on to the high school, she said.

"But that's over. The vision is to create a private school environment in a public school system," she said.
         
One of the first fundraisers offered parents a view of the home varsity football games from the middle school library, she said. Those parents saw the need for more books in the library, and a drive began.
          
Since then, the football fundraiser has become the largest and has moved to a covered outdoor space adjoining the field and high school, she said. Food is also part of the evening.
           
Now with a little more than $400,000 in the endowment, Shaffer said the foundation supports grants for teachers who need equipment from musical instruments to sewing machines. It helped pay for fiber optics under the football field and bought MacBook Airs for the middle school and iPads for grades 1-5.

"We're preparing students for the future, not the past," Shaffer said.
     
The Forest Hills foundation has similar goals. It’s focused on programs that improve academics, including a before- and after-school tutoring program at Nagel Middle School.

Dee Stone, executive director for the Forest Hills foundation, said the program helps with academics and gives kids a place to stay since so many parents work.

"We're doing a lot of good for the kids in that program," she said, adding that a math tutor was added this fall.

The foundation pays the teacher salaries and also for buses to take kids home after the program, she said. Foundation officials also want to add later buses on a couple of days so more kids who otherwise would not have a ride home can participate in after-school activities.

Lyon said the Forest Hill foundation operates on $180,000 a year, and he hopes to see that rise quickly to $250,000. The foundation's 5K race each spring is its biggest fundraiser.

That private money is key, said Stone.

"Tax dollars that public education is getting are going down year after year after year,” she said.
"You're going to have to have private funds to supplement that. It's something private schools have been doing for years."