BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — This academic year, a project several years in the making will finally begin to fulfill its original purpose: bringing academic enrichment to Niskayuna’s students.
The Niskayuna Education Enrichment Fund (EEF) began in 2012 at the suggestion of several Board of Education members. The budget that year was tight, forcing the board to consider cuts to several beloved programs, and a fund that could offer grants for specific projects seemed like a viable way for the community to help make sure students didn’t have to miss out on educational opportunities.
School districts, of course, can’t receive donations directly. For that reason, the EEF was designed to operate under two nonprofits, the Niskayuna Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region.
The fund was set up, and the Board of Education had several discussions about how to award the money the EEF would collect.
“After the initial conversation, basically, nothing happened,” Gordon said.
Former Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio was behind the project, but after she parted ways with the school district, the Board of Education had to face other priorities.
“All of last year, you never heard about it,” Gordon said.
This year, that will change. All Board of Education members receive committee assignments, and Gordon, alongside new Board of Education members David Koes and Howard Schlossberg, has been instructed to get the EEF up and running.
“The three of us are so excited to get the ball rolling again,” Gordon said.
Koes said he feels the fund is a productive way for he and Schlossberg, who ran for the two open Board of Education seats as a team, to get down to business.
“I think this is the first step for Howard and I as new board members,” he said. “We need to show the community we’re serious about getting things done.”
“The new superintendent has embraced this concept,” he added.
The three committee members are not exactly sure what sorts of educational experiences the EEF will fund. They need to recruit an advisory committee first. In addition to Koes, Schlossberg and Gordon, the committee will include three faculty members, three Niskayuna Community Foundation members, and at least three community members, though they are willing to accept as many as five.
“We hope the committee will look at applications that benefit the greater good,” Koes said.
This could encompass a variety of educational experiences, from class trips to extracurriculars and beyond. There is no set number of students who must benefit from the awards.
Originally, the fund was set up so donors could choose whether their contributions would be used for athletics, arts, music, or academics. That option is no longer available; all money donated will be awarded at the committee’s discretion. However, grant applications for music education or athletic education, for example, are still welcome.
Koes noted that donors who wish to fund specific categories of programs have other options, such as the Booster Club for athletics and Nisky Friends of Music.
The EEF will eventually have clearer guidelines for grant applications, but that process is ongoing.
There’s already money in the fund, ready to be distributed as grants. Donations from individuals, including a contribution to honor Board of Education member Barbara Mauro’s retirement and donations in honor of a Niskayuna community member who passed away, have added up to about $20,000.
Any individual can contribute to the fund, which is tax-deductible and eligible for employer matching when available.
However, Gordon said donors are wondering when their money will begin to benefit students. For the fund to succeed in the long term, progress must be made.
“We’d like to see grants reviewed two times per year,” Gordon said, although this year there will probably be just one review once the logistical chore of setting up a committee, then soliciting and reviewing grants, is completed. She hopes the fund will award its first grants in December 2015 or January 2016.
Although the budget is in better shape than it was when the program was proposed in 2012, the Board of Education committee members have no doubt they’ll get plenty of interesting applications from creative teachers and administrators.
“If the school district could fund everything, I’m sure they would,” Koes said. But that’s not always possible, which is where a committee of dedicated community members will come in handy.
“We’re excited to see people’s money be put to good use,” Gordon said.
To learn more about applying for the EEF Advisory Committee, or to donate to the fund, visit niskyschools.org/community/EEF.cfm.