By Amy Byrnes
What do you get at the end of the school year when you add up all those book fairs, Box Tops and ladies’ nights out that countless volunteers across the Two River area have worked hard to organize? As it turns out, some very significant money that is poured back into the schools and used to help fund everything from assemblies to Chromebooks to classroom “invention centers” to promote innovative thinking.
“I like to say that our board of education does the baking and the PTO [Parent Teacher Organization] and education foundation add the icing to the cake,” said Rumson Superintendent Dr. John E. Bormann, explaining how the parent groups help the PreK-8 district pilot new programs that would otherwise not be afforded.
Since the state capped property taxes at two percent in 2010, districts have come to rely more and more on fundraising efforts of school parent groups to help support new initiatives and the technology that has become standard in today’s classrooms.
Fundraising efforts this year by the Rumson PTO have been “record setting,” according to Co-President Liza Tamashunas. The group will use some of the $86,000 it is putting back into the schools to support mandated assemblies for the 970 students enrolled in the district throughout the year as well as fund a National Junior Honor Society pilot. The remaining $56,000 will be used to purchase 24 projectors to be mounted in classrooms in both of the district’s buildings, allowing teachers and students the ability to interact with lessons from various devices.
“Dr. Bormann had given us a clear vision for the year in terms of fundraising goals and what the district needed,” said Tamashunas. The group worked with the superintendent to pinpoint purchasing the projectors as the goal for this year’s fundraising efoorts, which “really resonated” with the PTO, Tamashunas said.
The PTO and district communicated that goal with parents and even showcased the projector project at the annual Parents’ Night Out. “Parents have an easier time writing a check knowing where their money was going,” she added.
Rumson’s Education Foundation raised about $108,000 this year, according to Bormann, that will help fund a variety of initiatives for the district including purchasing tablets for Kindergarteners, world language Chromebooks, video displays for the media center and an innovation classroom.
The Little Silver PTO (LSPTO) hit a snag early in the school year when one of its major fundraisers, the Little Silver 5K, was cancelled in October due to bad weather. But through the support of the community, said LSPTO President Julie Blacklock, the group was able to surpass last year’s fundraising efforts by about 62 percent and bring approximately $108,000 to the 851 students in the PreK-8 district.
Of that, about $67,000 was earmarked for curriculum enrichment, which included cultural arts programs, teacher grants, library books and an author experience for the entire district by the award-winning children’s book writer Sarah Weeks. The program included age-appropriate curriculum throughout the year tied to the event for all grade levels and culminated in a visit by Weeks.
“We’re all working towards the same goal,” said Blacklock, “and when we work together we really can accomplish some great things for the children.”
The majority of the $103,000 that the Education Foundation of Little Silver (EFLS) raised this year was brought in at its annual fundraiser held at the Ocean Place in Long Branch in March. The proceeds will be used to fulfill a variety of teacher grants, according to the EFLS, including the purchase of approximately 165 Chromebooks and Surface Pro and TV packages that will replace dated equipment across multiple grades.
“We’re living in a time when our property tax cap lets [the board) take care of staffing and programs, but even that’s tight,” said Little Silver School District Superintendent Carolyn Kossack, adding that the district has become “more and more reliant” on its parent fundraising groups.
According to Melissa Donofri, who headed up the Oceanport PTO this year, the group appropriated about $58,000 for various initiatives for the PreK-8 district. About $20,000 went towards enrichment programs – like cultural arts – and $30,000 helped fund teacher wish lists, which include new technology for classrooms.
She said that parents are starting to understand that while the school district’s money covers the basics, if they wanted their children to have the extras, “they have to put money in.”
A lot of this year’s fundraisers for the Oceanport PTO were more experience-driven – like its spring auction that raised about $22,000 – rather than asking parents to buy wrapping paper and candles. “We try and make it fun while raising the money,” said Donofri.
The Colts Neck PTO raised about $67,000 over the last two years, according to President Justine Buzzetta, through fundraisers as diverse as a kitchen tour and Harlem Wizards event to collecting Box Tops. The group uses over $20,000 of that each year to fund teacher mini grants — which lets teachers apply for initiatives that are new to the district, said Buzzetta. One of the programs funded was the installation of a virtual learning lab that allows students to take virtual tours of an ocean reef or the Louvre as well as connect with students around the country.
Buzzetta said the PTO, which is the only parent fundraising group for the district, worked closely the board of education, superintendent and director of curriculum to determine which initiatives to support.
The Foundation for Shrewsbury Education organizes two annual fundraisers that helped generate the approximately $50,000 it will use to purchase predominantly technology-driven initiatives for the PreK-8 district, according to President Lisa Kane. The foundation hosted a 5K in the fall and wrapped up the season with a Wine Tasting on June 4.
The event, which was held at a private home, auctioned off prizes like a party bus, a group fishing adventure and premium seats to a Yankees game, said Kane. Money raised from both of this year’s events will help fund things like teacher grants and Chromebooks.
As Blacklock, of the LSPTO, observed, “It takes a village to have all of these things come together and be able to offer all the extras.”
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