YSCAPE funds school change
- Published: October 24, 2013
When in 2011 the local school district established its 10-year strategic roadmap for modernizing public education in Yellow Springs, leaders didn’t yet know how they would fund the change. But they soon figured out that the support needed to transition the K–12 district to a modernized, student-centered system of education would require funding beyond what the annual budget could sustain.
Meanwhile, local couple Maureen Lynch and Richard Lapedes had been watching the schools and the wider community develop the Class of 2020 strategic plan and became inspired by its call to, as the plan’s first challenge reads: “redesign what we teach and how we teach to better prepare our students for the world they will enter.” Public schools are the foundation of a community and “the basis of the democracy,” Lynch said in an interview this week, so surely the education plan deserved to be both stellar and relevant.
As if the plan created by the community wasn’t eye-catching enough, the project-based learning strategy that school leaders championed to implement it confirmed the couple’s intention to ensure that it became a reality. Project-based learning, according to Lapedes, is a compelling strategy that fits well with the couple’s interest in arts integrated education.
“That’s why this particular thing gets our attention,” he said. “PBL is the ‘how’ that enables the 2020 to happen. For me, the how is so powerful it makes the original plan even better than our finest hopes.”
The couple discussed their enthusiasm with leaders from the schools and the philanthropic community (including school board member Sean Creighton, Bruce Bradtmiller of Yellow Springs Community Foundation, school district Superintendent Mario Basora and Treasurer Dawn Weller) together came up with a concept for the Yellow Springs Exempted Village Schools Capital and Endowment Fund (YSCAPE) as a private, donor-based fund to support the implementation of the 2020 plan. Lynch and Lapedes became the fund’s seed donors by giving $150,000, hoping that others in the community would follow suit.
“We did this as we saw the 2020 plan developing and realized the changeover had to be financed,” Lynch said. The need for subsequent donations is about “community buy-in, because it was the community that created the 2020 plan.”
The governance for YSCAPE was set up specifically to broaden ownership of the assets and prevent self-dealing or the impression of self-dealing for any individual or entity, according to both school district Superintendent Mario Basora and Lapedes. According to the fund’s bylaws, YSCAPE resides with the Community Foundation, or YSCF, whose board members have ultimate control over the funds and their dispersement. And since its establishment in September 2012, the fund has done well to enable the mission and strategies of the 2020 plan, YSCF president Sterling Wiggins said in an interview last week.
“Project-based learning seems to be off to a roaring start, and this fund to support the execution of the 2020 plan seems like it’s doing what it was meant to do,” Wiggins said. “From a broad scope, it seems to be working.”
The spending so far
The district has estimated that in order to fully implement the 2020 plan using PBL as the fundamental educational tool, the schools would need an estimated $500,000 over the next eight years. And according to priority number four of the strategic plan, the district had always intended to invigorate new funding streams to fund most or all of the district change.
The schools have initiated three rounds of YSCAPE funding so far. The first $14,000 allowed five Yellow Springs personnel to travel in the fall 2012 to High Tech High, an innovative school in San Diego, Calif. from which the local district is learning how to promote a student-centered culture and curriculum. In June, YSCAPE gave the district just over $80,000 for several professional development activities. The grant paid for a teacher training on PBL in August, including bringing two trainers here from HTH and paying the 50 local teachers who were able to attend the three-day session. That money also enabled the local district to retain the services of Dayton STEM School teacher Kate Cook, who will coach Yellow Springs teachers this school year in developing project-based learning techniques.
Last month the district sent a third proposal to YSCAPE for $9,300 to bring a mentor from HTH back to Yellow Springs for two training sessions this year.
Currently the district has spent the YSCAPE fund down to about $56,000, which is only slightly higher than the amount the district needs to hire a development officer to continue to raise private funds. And while recently the Yellow Springs School Board has discussed how it might use part of its general fund to support the 2020 plan, currently all discretionary resources are spoken for in the budget. The circumstances make Basora very grateful that the community was able to establish the private fund last year.
“Without YSCAPE there is no way we would have been able to do anything like this,” he said in an interview last week.
How projects get funded
YSCAPE was intentionally structured to maximize community control of the funds donated to it, Basora said. According to the fund’s bylaws, proposals get submitted to the YSCAPE advisory committee, which evaluates them on the merit of their ability to further the 2020 goals. The committee includes three members of the YSCF, all of whom have voting power, and four members from the school district, only two of whom have voting rights. Once the committee vets and recommends the proposal, it is passed on to the YSCF board for final approval and dispersement of funds.
According to Bruce Bradtmiller, a YSCF committee member along with Susan Miller and Lisa Abel, the proposals that have been submitted so far have been legitimately in service of the district’s strategic plan. The other advisory committee members, who were named by the school district last winter, are McKinney Teacher Jack Hatert, parent and community member Lori Kuhn, Basora and school board member Sean Creighton.
“So far, each of the proposals has been completely consistent with the goals of the 2020 and the implementation plan,” Bradtmiller wrote in a recent email.
The schools have another source of funds with YSCF known as the Yellow Springs Education Endowment, which currently holds $383,000 and had about $17,600 available for grants to the schools in 2013. Because that fund functions only as an endowment, the grants can only be used for smaller, more discreet needs. In 2012, for instance, according to Bradtmiller, the YSEE funded five grants, including the smallest of $500 to purchase an iPad and the largest of $8,288 to help students improve their working memory and processing speeds.
By contrast, YSCAPE has two funds, which makes it more flexible. One is an endowment fund from which only net income can be spent. The other is a capital fund from which both principal and net income can be spent. So far, money has come come only from the capital fund.
Grant spending oversight
While the initial grant was made by Lapedes and Lynch, the YSCAPE bylaws were crafted intentionally to bar the donors from having any influence whatsoever in how the funds are spent, Lapedes said. And though as a former board member Lapedes has been an especially public champion of the schools, he is careful not to abuse any sensitivity villagers might have about the donation of funds and maintaining control over them.
Basora agreed that the couple was very careful to uninvolve themselves in the affairs of the fund beyond their initial gift.
“Richard’s involvement has been to try to get other donors to support the 2020 by contributing to our schools — to enhance what we’ve been doing,” Basora said. “He has never tried to leverage or force his ideas onto us. We have a plan, and we’re sticking to it.”
The school board also retains some oversight of the dispersal of funds. According to board policy, any grant proposals over $20,000 must be approved by the board before being submitted to the funder. Those in lesser amounts are reported to the board by district Treasurer Dawn Weller.
As the board moves forward to possibly hiring a development officer and increasing private funding for the public schools, school board President Benji Maruyama expects that oversight issues will need to be adjusted to match the level of funding activity.
“As we go forward, I expect that grants from YSCAPE and other organizations will become a larger and more integral part of our revenue. I think that with this greater importance will come a need for more detailed process for reporting on how funds are spent — both from the district and the granting organization, in line with best practices at other organizations that accept significant grant funds,” he wrote in an email this week. “This will allow us to cultivate the confidence of our community and potential donors.”