Public schools focus of foundation

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Each August, at a “Teacher Store” in partnership with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club, new teachers, school social workers and roughly half the other teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools can pick up classroom supplies using a $75 voucher.

Teachers also are eligible to receive $1,000 a year for two to three years from 10 endowed chairs, and for recognitions and awards; scholarships to help cover the cost of applying for national certification; and professional-development grants. And first-year teachers receive $100 grants for classroom purposes.

Helping to provide all that support, as well as funding for schools and students, is the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation, which hosts the Teacher Store in partnership with East Chapel Hill Rotary Club

Launched in 1984, the Foundation has raised and provided over $5.4 million for local public schools, including funds for 328 teachers who have received money from the endowed chairs, and received awards and also scholarships for certification through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

It also has provided nearly $532,000 for students and schools for college scholarships, summer enrichment and tutoring; over $230,000 in supplies and materials for classroom teachers; and nearly $850,000 for projects at schools.

In the face of declining teacher morale as a result of cuts or threatened cuts in state funding for schools and teacher salaries, the Foundation works to “make sure the teachers feel valued and they know they’re making a difference in children’s lives,” says Lynn Lehmann, the Foundation’s executive director.

The Foundation also focuses on “students with the most need, both financially and academically, to make sure every student is able to be on grade level,” she says.

Operating with an annual budget of $325,000, and a staff of one full-time employee and three part-time employees, the Foundation counts on 45 active volunteers, including the 27 members of its board of directors, plus other volunteers who support three major fundraising events.

Board members, for example, review grant requests and recommend funding; chair events; work with the Foundation’s auditor; prepare financial statements; create communications; and set up focus groups with teachers and principals to identify their needs.

“They work like this is their job,” says Lehmann, a former PTA president who served on the Foundation’s board for 10 years, including a term as president, before joining the staff in 2014 as program manager.

She became executive director last October, succeeding Kim Hoke, who co-founded the Foundation when she was assistant to the superintendent of the city schools.

Each year, the Foundation hosts three big fundraising events, including its Walk for Education, which last fall raised $185,000, including corporate sponsorships, with 85 percent of the funds going back to schools for projects.

It also hosts a 5K for Education each spring that generates about $10,000 and includes six weeks of fitness training for teachers for $25 each provided by Fleet Feet Sports. And it hosts a Teachers First Breakfast and Roses, which receives donated food from the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group — Spanky’s, 411 West, Mez, Page Road Grill and Squid’s — and discounted roses from Whole Foods, and last year raised $95,000, most of it for programs that support teachers.

The Foundation supports each of the school system’s 11 elementary schools, four middle schools and four high schools — plus the school at UNC Hospitals for young people being  treated there — in raising money for the Walk to fund a project each school chooses.

It also provides grants for out-of-school learning and enrichment for low-income or low-achieving students  and student scholarships for higher education.

The Foundation also receives support from individuals, including one who last year donated $55,000, and from the Stroud Roses Foundation and other philanthropies.

But generating funds through its annual appeal remains a challenge, Lehmann says, and the Foundation has hired Executive Service Corps of the Triangle to help it develop a strategic plan that could set the stage for fundraising or campaign to build its operating endowment, which now totals $108,000.  The Foundation also operates 32 endowments totaling $1.5 million that support endowed chairs and other programs.

“Teacher value and student success are the challenges of the district,” Lehmann says, “and the things we try to address with our enrichment grants.”

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