The Dexter Community School Board of Education received an introductory presentation from Excellence 4 Dexter Students (E4DS) at its Monday night meeting. E4DS was started last April by a group of parents around the district, who grew concerned about the district’s evaporating funding.
“We recognize and appreciate the fact that the board of education has done everything that can be possible and that our staff has taken cut after cut in order to help balance our budget,” E4DS President Jennifer Kangas said. “We recognize [that] this has been a very difficult decision for all.”
For the story on how E4DS came to be read Part 1: Friends of Dexter Community Schools: How a Facebook group helped galvanize public education supporters in Dexter and Part 2: Excellence 4 Dexter Schools: Taking the fight for public education from social media to the real world of a previously published WeLoveDexter.com series.
E4DS was at the September 28 board meeting to introduce themselves to the Board of Education, as well as make an overture towards district officials for support and to help introduce themselves to the community at large. The group had been in the works for some years and their bylaws were formally created at the end of last June, Kangas said, in an emailed statement after the meeting.
The 501c3 charitable organization is meant to complement and support the board of education in its mission to deliver the best possible education to the district’s students, by raising money through seeking individual donations and undertaking larger fundraising efforts that are intended to offset continually waning financial backing from Lansing and the shrinking budgets that are its direct result.
As Kangas said in her speech “We do not want to just get by.”
E4DS says their goal is to raise $300 per pupil. That would mean an extra $1 million or so for the school district to use. The organization’s eventual goal is to achieve 100 percent participation from Dexter’s businesses and families.
“We were trying to match that to the cuts that were anticipated,” Kangas said.
They plan on raising that money through fundraising campaigns. The lowest level is called the Snack Buddy donation, at $100. But donations can go up to a $25,000 at the Mentor level. In the two days that they have been accepting donations, Kangas said they raised around $5,000. They are online at e4ds.org.
They intend to do business sponsorships, although Kangas said that no formal outreach has been made yet. E4DS members intend to expand beyond local businesses that are often tapped by other local organizations for financial support already.
The board greeted the presentation well. Board of Education Vice President Julie Schumaker said “I think you’ve made phenomenal progress in four or five months, and I think part of this group coalesced after the possibility of the annexation last year, which got the community’s attention … realizing that the root of the issue was a funding problem.”
One of the board members asked how E4DS is different from already established Educational Foundation of Dexter.
“[The] Ed foundation is probably something most people in this room [the board] know, but probably something people in the larger community don’t,” E4DS trustee Maureen Hennessy said. “We’re raising money to provide funds for teacher grants. So we’re working directly with the teachers and looking for innovative, creative ideas to help enhance the curriculum and experience for the students.”
Hennessey is also the president of the education foundation.
E4DS is a separate entity from the school district, the city of Dexter or any other governmental organization. Dexter Board member Richard Lundy asked how they intended to disperse the money to the Board of Education. This was an area that E4DS was not clear on.
“We set our year end to match the districts year end. What our intention is hopefully that we have a relatively successful fall campaign and we’re hoping to make some contribution by December and then subsequent contribution by the end of April so you can use it for budgeting. ”
Kangas said that they were “flexible” with whatever the board wanted. Lundy said that he thought that a donation in March or April, to then be used in the subsequent school year “would have the greatest impact on budgeting.”
“If we got money during this school year, I would think we’d want to put it in reserve because we’ve already got our programs in place. And it [the donation]’s not intended for enhancements, it’s intended for basic operations,” Lundy said.
Kangas agreed to work with the board on the dispersal specifics. And she requested that the board let them know what this new money would be used for, for further fund raising purposes.
Dexter Board of Education President Michael Wendorf is also on the E4DS board, as is Superintendent Christopher Timmis. The entire 11 member E4DS board was present at the meeting.
E4DS is based somewhat on the East Grand Rapids School Foundation. Founded in 1983, it has grown exponentially. According to their website, their endowment is at $3.5 million.