Roaring Fork Schools planning new nonprofit — but not like the last one
The Roaring Fork School District is in the process of creating a nonprofit entity that would exclusively support local schools.
The foundation is expected to be operational in July and achieve nonprofit status by early 2020, but it won’t start hosting fundraisers and soliciting donations immediately after it begins.
“Right now, the huge motivator for this is to create a 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor for the programs that are already trying to write grants, to allow them access to more resources,” said Anna Cole, a part-time, grant-funded wellness coordinator for RFSD.
Basalt schools currently have a local foundation that supplements mill levy funds from the district. But the new district foundation would be able to serve all of the district’s public schools, including those in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, by giving certain programs access to more grants.
Cole is in the process of helping the school with the paperwork required to register as a nonprofit with the IRS — bylaws, articles of incorporation, forming of a foundation board.
Cole works with Family Services, which places liaisons in each school for health and counseling support. But, because of past experience with forming nonprofits, she was tapped to help form a foundation.
Cole is looking to apply for a grant to hire a person to reach out to families searching for early childhood programs.
In order for supplemental educational organizations like RFSD’s family services to be eligible for certain grants, they need a registered nonprofit sponsor.
“It’s really frustrating. The work we’re doing has great outcomes … we just don’t have the funding,” Cole said.
School funding is a perennial issue for Colorado, and particularly for districts considered rural.
One major need is teacher pay. This winter, RFSD authorized the first pay raise for teachers in years. But it still didn’t bring pay up to the cost of living standards for the region.
School districts can’t spend grant money or one-time state funds to supplement that pay, but they can ease the strain on salary budgets by getting grants for things like family services, facility improvements and classroom supplies.
Teachers also often dip into their own wages to purchase supplies the school can’t cover.
There were around 4,800 foundations supporting single school districts in 2001, though that number could be much larger now.
RFSD had a districtwide foundation in the past, but it folded about five years ago.
The Roaring Fork Public Education Foundation was formed in 2004, according to the Colorado Secretary of State website.
In the first two years, the foundation granted around $56,000 to RFSD teachers to enhance educational activities, and helped 30 teachers obtain educational development opportunities.
In the fiscal year ending June 2011, the RFPEF raised $45,000. In the next fiscal year, ending 2012, the foundation raised $24,000, and the year ending 2013, it raised less than $7,500.
There are no financial filings with the state after 2013, and the organization’s registration expired in 2015.
Mike Bucchin of Glenwood Springs, who led the foundation as president for four years and left a year or more before it closed, said the organization faced challenges in fundraising to spend equal amounts at each of the three high school networks.
The RFPEF’s charter stipulated that money had to be split equally three ways for the high school networks of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
But, each community wanted the money they raised to go to their own school.
“That was an extraordinarily difficult task to raise money around,” Bucchin said.
Bucchin isn’t sure why exactly the foundation petered out, but noted running the organization and the board took a lot of effort from volunteers, who were also busy with children and careers.
It’s unclear what the new foundation will look like, as its still in the early stages.
“Down the road, could we see this foundation start doing something in the community, trying to rally folks from Glenwood to Carbondale to Basalt to support the schools? I don’t know what that would look like,” Cole said. “Maybe that’s the direction the foundation will go.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version misidentified Ann Cole.
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Basalt High School students view the Roaring Fork Valley and learn about the watershed from EcoFlight’s educational plane trips.