BIRCHWOOD– Since the Educational Foundation of Birchwood’s conception in 2001, it has awarded approximately $750,000 in grants for projects, programs, and inspiring experiences at Birchwood School.
It is a resounding success, and the foundation is challenging itself to help ensure that it will always have the funding to help keep the Birchwood students and staff ever reaching for greater educational achievements. The foundation has since its inception had a background goal of establishing a $5 million endowment so that the interest earned – say $50,000, from a 5% growth – would provide a steady stream of revenue.
The goal is to “secure a first-rate education for all Birchwood students by developing a sustainable revenue stream that will ensure long-term, quality educational opportunities that go far beyond basic necessities.”
For the past year and a half the board has been working toward establishing an endowment, and it has received a major boost in getting it started: Local residents Dave and Carolyn Cleveland have pledged a $500,000 match for the endowment. They will match every dollar, up to half a million, that the foundation raises until April 1, 2022, the three-year timeline from when the offer was extended and accepted.
Dave Cleveland had called the foundation and said they would like to help. They met with representatives of the foundation and within days offered the match.
“We thought, ‘We can do this,’” said Fos Soper, the foundation's president. “And this is what we need to launch this fantastic mission that we created of a $5 million long-term goal.”
The foundation initially got a handful of grant requests from staff and students. That number rose to a dozen, then dozens. Last year it was 45 requests.
“Of course we’d like to fund everybody,” said board member Amy Okey. “We can't do that. But we do what we can for most of them. But as we see that more and more requests are coming in every year, we want to continue to support as much of it as we can.”
In 2018-19 the foundation awarded $103,952. Almost half of it was for technology, funded by an anonymous donor. Other projects included Science Olympiad, trip to Washington, D.C., math and reading intervention, football equipment, and sewing machines.
In 2014-15, the foundation awarded $22,516; in 2017-18 the award totaled $260,345, the bulk of it, $178,065, going to the Fab Lab (fabrication lab), funded, again, by primarily from anonymous donors.
The school gets its funding from property taxes, open enrollment (a third of the students are open enrolled into the school), state and federal aid, grants, donations, and the foundation.
Birchwood School is what is called a “property-rich and population-poor” district. Lakeside properties lead to the property-rich part of the equation, but the community has a 57 percent poverty rate. With the high value of property in the district, the school is considered “zero-aided.” It received just $8,915 in state aid for the past school year.
The school’s mill rate is the 12th lowest among the state's 368 K-12 districts, falling at 6.35 ($6.35 per $1,000 of property value) in a field where the lowest is 2.77 and the highest is 14.99.
So the foundation sees its mission to help fund education opportunities as critical.
Every year something needs to be upgraded or replaced.
“And it's just being able to provide those unique experiences in education for Birchwood area kids that the school district can't afford to do,” Okey said.
She said the administration and school board have been proactive with open enrollment and with offering a multitude of education options, including the traditional school model and three charter schools: Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School for grades 7 to 12, Birchwood Public Montessori for kindergarten through sixth grade, and the online Bobcat Virtual Academy.
Soper said he believes raising the $500,000 match is a matter of getting the word out to the people in the district and beyond and connecting the dots for them – telling them what the foundation does, the need for the funds, how important it is for the programs to be maintained and expanded at the school.
“We feel that with the increased costs of education, we need to up our game,” Soper said. “We need to find ways to satisfy those needs. And this endowment would be a huge step in that direction, if we can get it to a point where it can generate a significant amount of revenue each year, just the interest on it. The money that we generate through our fundraisers, none of it goes for operational or maintenance kinds of things.
“These are all student- and teacher-driven requests that are made to us,” he said. “So it's programs that are important to teachers, continuing education, and it's programs that are important for students in a selected course of study that they're going to be working on someday, getting them ready for these careers that we hope they all find someday.”
The board's plan for getting the word out includes sending out mailings, contacting organizations, and meeting with a list of potential individual donors and contacts. One of their mailings was themed around “What will your legacy be?”
Another approach will be one-on-one conversations with people who care about education and care about Birchwood’s students, Johnson said.
“There are so many great organizations to give the dollars to,” Okey said. “And I know we're competing with that. But I also have gotten a sense from some of our donors that, ‘Hey, you know, I could give it to a big national organization, or I could give it locally and see the impact within my community or our area.’”
The impact will be felt throughout the area, not just at Birchwood School, she said.
Soper said the foundation probably has maxed out what it can earn from its annual golf outing (approximately $60,000) and the Kentucky Derby, an event at Tagalong Golf Course with games and raffles. Last year the derby raised $13,000.
This year's golf outing, silent and live auctions, and games will be on September 6.
“People love that day,” Johnson said. “That golf outing is amazing.”
“It's just magical,” Soper said. “Because when you see 150, 160 people out there with the excitement of 18 holes of golf, fantastic dinner, the camaraderie conenction, burgers, free lunches, burgers at at the turn, the the photograph that's taken, the contests that are going on on the holes. A car that's up for grabs with a hole in one. A boat, motor and trailer over here that's up for grabs with a hole in one. I mean, the excitement, you can just feel it, it's just electric.”
The tournament is staffed by volunteers, and they treat the golfers like the special people they are, the ones who make the tournament happen, he said. Steve Divine and Tyler LeBrocq are “the ones that make that course perfect,” Soper said, and Rande and Judy Purdy, owners of Cheers, oversee the dinner, which this year will be tenderloin and shrimp.
The foundation would struggle with funding projects if the golf outing was rained out, Soper said.
The amounts raised are “great numbers, but they're not going to grow significantly,” he said. “They're not going to grow as fast with robotics and all of the technology, the expenses of that. There's no way that the foundation can keep up with that. So that's why we're thinking we need a supplementary income that has potential to generate significant revenue.”
So far the foundation has raised approximately $75,000 toward the $500,000 match since April 1.
The foundation said the community, and beyond, have been very supportive of the foundation and its efforts.
An opportunity to further strengthen the Birchwood School bonds will be the Birchwood School Class of 1969's all-school reunion on Sunday, Sept. 1, from 1 to 5p.m. in the back of the Bluegill Bar. The foundation is hoping it might also be an opportunity to help meet the match.
“This event will not only honors the past 50 years of the Birchwood School,” the foundation said, “but will celebrate the present, as the school continues to provide an exceptional education to its students. In addition, it’s an exciting time for looking to the future considering the $500,000 Matching Pledge to the foundation endowment which was received this spring, and an ideal time for alumni, especially, to consider helping out the school by offering a donation which automatically doubles the amount given to the school. It’s hoped that many of Birchwood’s graduates from years gone by will be able to join the celebration and will be able to share in the support of the foundation.”
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