Community foundation boosts Roslyn schools

Spencer Penn, 6, and his sister Lexi, 3, Spencer Penn, 6, and his sister Lexi, 3, (foreground) get their wristbands at a fundraiser organized by the foundation for Roslyn's Educational Advancement and Development (R.E.A.D) to raise money for the school district, at East Hills Elementary School in Roslyn Heights. (Sept. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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In a field outside East Hills Elementary School in Roslyn, a 25-foot inflatable movie screen promised a fun evening for kids.

With food trucks and banners, the end-of-summer event resembled those traditionally held to raise a few extra dollars for schools. But parent Jason Garmise summed up his community's take-no prisoners approach to fundraising:

"This is not a bake sale."

Garmise is president of READ, The Foundation for Roslyn's Educational Advancement and Development, a newly formed nonprofit. The group is hoping to give a boost to the Roslyn school district -- if it needs one.

READ, which raised $20,000 at the fundraiser, follows the lead of several foundations nationwide, including several on Long Island, that have sprouted during times of fiscal uncertainty.

Community groups funding schools in need is nothing new. They often aid sports groups or extracurriculars in danger of budget cuts.

But what is striking about READ and similar foundations is the breadth and scope of their fundraising, educators say. The Tower Foundation of Manhasset said it has raised at least $1.5 million for the school district since its founding, and the Viking Foundation, which supports North Shore schools, has recently pledged $3 million for new facilities.

"You've always had parents associations kicking in money," said Alan Singer, a professor of education at Hofstra University. "This seems to be something on a new scale."

Weighing heavily on the minds of Roslyn parents is the 2 percent state cap on property taxes. And parents with children in the school -- where about half the students are equipped with school-provided iPads, and 9 percent of its recent class is attending Ivy League universities -- are unwilling to see it fall behind.

"This isn't a problem today, but it could be in five years," said Jared Feldman, a Roslyn parent on the foundation's board who attended schools in the district growing up. "We want to stay ahead."

Yet, according to educators, the very existence of these foundations threatens to widen the gap between high- and low-income school districts.

"The problem is less-affluent schools don't have the resources to raise the money independently," Singer said.

He cited the Tower Foundation's efforts to help outfit the high school in Manhasset with Wi-Fi and renovate the school's library.

"If Wi-Fi'ing a school is valid, then it should be done in every school in New York State. It shouldn't be dependent upon affluent families who live in the community."

Daniel Brenner, superintendent of Roslyn schools, said he's well aware of the inequity.

"Roslyn is fortunate enough, that they're able to do something like this," he said. "It's probably going to create a schism between the districts that can and the districts that can't."

In Roslyn, READ's capital campaign is aggressively under way.

Besides the movie night, whose proceeds came from ticket sales and donations from businesses in the community, the foundation said it plans to hold future fundraisers such as golf outings and dinner galas. READ also plans to offer a cash-back credit card, through NEFCU, a credit union, so 1 percent of purchases will be donated to the foundation.

Brenner said the school and the foundation will be partners. The foundation, he said, will likely fund large capital projects, though READ said it would not be limited to capital projects. It might provide funds for grants, if necessary.

With the tax cap looming, the Viking Foundation re-formed after being inactive for several years, and pledged money for a new athletic track and a TV and recording studio, said Ed Melnick, superintendent of North Shore Schools.

Educators contend that the districts cannot be faulted for being proactive.

"Not to do it leaves your kids in a disadvantaged place," Roslyn's Brenner said. "And so it's a dilemma -- it's a dilemma that everyone feels."

 

COMMUNITY FOUNDATIONS

 

Roslyn school district

Foundation: READ

$20,000 raised in funds

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Manhasset school district

Foundation: Tower Foundation of Manhasset

At least $1.5 million raised

Projects:Wi-Fi, Smart Boards, library renovation

North Shore schools

Foundation: The Viking Foundation

$3 million pledged

Projects: Athletic and technology facilities, including a new track, and TV/Recording Studio

Source: READ, Tower Foundation of Manhasset, North Shore Schools

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