New foundation hopes to augment Scarborough school funding

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SCARBOROUGH — A new group has formed to help fund local public school education.

Organizers of the Scarborough Education Foundation met with the School Board Dec. 1 to unveil their goals and mission statement. The group says it will fund “innovative and creative educational programs and initiatives that fall outside traditional school budget considerations.”

Foundation President Will Leadley said SEF will provide funding for educators who have plans to enhance teaching. That could mean funding technology, teacher training or other means to boost learning.

“Our primary focus is not to develop the ideas and advancements, but to help fund them,” he said. “We hope to solicit private donations from families, individuals and businesses in Scarborough and really make this a very broad-based thing that people can get behind and support.”

Leadley and Larissa Pratt, who will chair the foundation’s Governance Committee, told board members they have met with representatives from other education foundations – including the ones in Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Kennebunk – who gave them advice for starting the group in Scarborough.

Those groups have distributed cash to fund many projects, including the purchase of interactive SMARTBoards for classrooms and new curriculum modules. Cape Elizabeth’s foundation has given almos $900,000 to education projects since 2002, according to its website. This year, it gave nearly $60,000 in the spring alone, most of it going to provide iPads to high school students and teachers.

The Scarborough group began meeting this fall, and has the support of Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle III. Entwistle had been meeting with parents and residents since being hired in March, and said several people told him they were interested in getting together to help fund education.

“There were certain individuals who indicated they wanted to get more actively involved in the schools, maybe a half-dozen folks, that seemed to be good people to bring together,” Entwistle said Monday. “The rest is history.”

Leadley and Pratt emphasized the group does not intend to supplement the school budget, pay salaries, or fill gaps in basic curriculum funding. Rather, they said, the group would seek out applicants who show foresight and creativity in making schools in the district “first-rate.”

“We’re looking to things that aren’t already, traditionally, in the school budget,” Pratt said.”We’re not trying to reduce the pressure on the Town Council relative to the school budget. We’re actually hoping to increase the pressure by showing that there’s a dedicated group of parents who are very serious about education in this town … and we’re willing to put our money where our mouths are.”

Pratt told the School Board that there are plenty of residents and parents of students who want to do what they can to help the schools. She said she saw it first hand in the lead-up to voters approving the $39 million Wentworth building project.

“We heard people say before the election, ‘Raise my taxes. Take more of my money,'” she said. “We know that’s not really that easy, so we have decided to be the organization that says, ‘We’ll take your money.'”

The group is assembling the paperwork and documents to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. That jumble of numbers is significant, because it means the group won’t be allowed to use its funding toward political ends.

“We all agreed that we won’t be political,” said SEF board member Chris Brownsey, who until recently was the chairman of the School Board. “We’ll advocate for funding, but we’re strictly nonpolitical.”

Brownsey said he’s confident the group eventually will be as successful as the education foundations in Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth, which gave out more than $64,000 in 2009, according to its most recent IRS filings.

Leadley agreed.

“We’re really trying to keep a narrow focus for right now, and not focus on what this could be or will be,” he said. “We know what we want this to be right now, which is a way to focus our efforts to support our teachers in making Scarborough’s systems really above and beyond first-class.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.