The new computer lab at E.H. Slaybaugh School did not cost the Egg Harbor Township School District a penny.
The $60,000 needed for the lab and a new playground for H. Russell Swift School was raised by the Community Partnership for Egg Harbor Township Schools, a nonprofit formed in 2005 to fill the gap left by reduced state funding and budget caps.
Parents always have raised money to pay for extra items, such as awards, parties and field trips. But as budgets have grown tighter, schools are relying more on outside groups to provide not just the extras but items that once were part of the district budget.
Education foundations are the Santa Clauses of many schools today, providing grants to teachers, scholarships to students and maybe funds for special field trips, speakers or assemblies. Some raise a few thousand dollars per year. Others, like the Egg Harbor Township group, are more ambitious.
To date, that partnership has raised nearly $400,000 and funded more than 15 projects, including three computer labs, a grand piano and new TV cameras for the high school, Lacrosse team equipment, a drumming program at the Miller School and iPads for students with autism.
“Our criteria are how many students can we have an effect on for the money,” foundation President Chip Donovan said.
His father, the late Chuck Donovan, helped start the group to pay for big-ticket items the district could no longer afford, things too costly for the school parent groups and even the district foundation.
“The EHT Education Foundation was doing grants and scholarships, but no one was doing capital items,” Donovan said. “And once schools start cutting stuff like technology, it never comes back. That’s where we can step in.”
Other foundations have increased their support, too.
Galloway Township Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said her district’s foundation has expanded to fund technology and specialized programs, such as Odyssey of the Mind.
The Mullica Township Education Foundation, started by Ralph and Donna Leek, supports field trips and scholarships but also purchased Smartboards and computers, spending about $45,000 on the technology, Superintendent Andrew Weber said.
For more than 20 years, the Cape May Special Services District Foundation has held an annual dinner and auction. In addition to teacher grants, it paid for a wheelchair-accessible playground, minivans for work programs, a weight room, acoustical tiles in the gym and driver-education simulators, Superintendent Barbara Makoski said.
The Ocean City Education Foundation raises about $30,000 a year, which is used to “bridge the gaps,” President Tricia Ciliberto said. It provided grants and funded part of the observatory.
“We ask teachers what could you be doing but you can’t because of the money,” Ciliberto said.
Grants have included pottery wheels for the Intermediate School art teacher, desk-cycles, a new food mixer for the consumer sciences class and knitting supplies for the Itty Bitty Knitters Club.
“These are things that enhance and make the district more appealing,” Ciliberto said.
The Ocean City PTA in the 2015-16 school year also provided more than $21,000 in grants and another $3,500 in scholarships. The PTA helped fund the spelling bee, dances, luncheons and the Stokes Forest trip, its president, Jocelyn Palaganas, wrote in an email.
Henry Dorsey, president of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Foundation, said his group gets many more grant requests than it can fund and will kick back things it thinks the district should buy, such as laptops for the teachers.
He said the group tries to fund things that will have the largest long-term impact on students. It helped pay for the first summer theater program, which is now self-sustaining, a sound booth for Oakcrest, where students are making their own commercials, and carvings of the mascots for each high school to promote school spirit and identity.
Dorsey’s most memorable grant was paying for a bus trip to Washington, D.C., for special-education students.
“It seems like a little thing, but it meant so much to the students and their parents,” he said. “Some had never been there.”
Not all funds support direct education costs.
John Kenyon Kummings, superintendent in Wildwood, said his district’s foundation has supported student attendance initiatives and a college and career readiness program.
“A lot are things that we struggled to do to support families,” he said. “That’s the main focus.”
Debra Albuquerque, president of the Mainland Regional High School Foundation, which re-organized in 2015, said she expects foundation efforts to grow. The group’s goal is to enhance the high school experience, primarily through grants to teachers. It supports the popular After-Prom event and awards about $4,000 to $5,000 a year in grants.
“This is the wave of the future,” she said. “Foundations are going to be supplementing the budget so we can keep up. We want the children to have what they need.”