By JIMMY LAWTON
POTSDAM -- As St. Lawrence County schools struggle for financial solvency, some Potsdam residents are working to raise as much as $200,000 to ensure educational opportunities remain intact.
The money will be used to fund field trips, teacher training and other educational activities not funded due to budget cuts.
Founded by a group of Potsdam Central School District residents, the Potsdam Educational Opportunity Foundation (PEOF) is hoping to combat cuts to education through community support.
The non-profit group formed in the wake of Potsdam Central School budget discussions two years ago, said Devon Shipp, PEOF advisory board chairman. He said talks of cuts to education and the grim outlook of for coming years raised concern with some attendees.
"During the discussions, the question came up of whether people were willing to get involved. A group of us met with some parents and we decided to do something about it," he said.
Shipp said booster clubs and support groups are fairly common to aid with athletics, but the same can't be said for academics.
"We are trying to fill a hole on the sort of academic side of things," he said. "The kids’ education is the ultimate end. It is really what counts."
Shipp said the foundation was slow moving at first as the group of enthusiastic district residents worked to educated themselves about foundations and establish 501c3, or non-profit, status.
"We really only got started on this (in 2012)."
Despite the youth of the foundation, Shipp said donations are coming in at a good pace. He said contributions picked up after a couple, both Potsdam Central School graduates, offered to match the foundation’s endowment fund and annual fund up to $100,000.
The donors offered to match endowment donations two-to-one. Annual fund donations will be matched at an even rate.
So far, the foundation has raised $24,550 for the endowment fund and $4,200 for the annual fund. Including the match, the funds are currently at $73,650 and $8,400 respectively.
Shipp said the endowment will help ensure the sustainability of the foundation, while the annual fund will be used to directly support Potsdam-area schools.
Annual projects could include anything from funding teacher-training courses to student field trips. Shipp said the funding would be issued like grants to the support the district in places it can no longer afford to fund.
The donations will be used like grants, where organizations or interested parties can write the foundation about their ideas.
The ideas would go before an advisory board, consisting of parents, business owners and employees from both colleges and the hospital.
“We wanted to bring in different groups of people who care about education, groups that largely support our endeavors because it’s also in their best interested to maintain a strong education at our schools,” he said.
Shipp said he believes the advisor board has found the right people for the job.
“I think we have a group people who have an understanding of the school system in general, who are largely very concerned about kids education.”
Shipp said the response has been positive. He said the PEOF has already allocated about $5,700 in toward projects, but was not ready to announce the details just yet.
“We want to send out our own press release once these projects are finalized, so I can't give details right now,” he said.
Anyone interested in donating to the fund should fill out a form obtainable online at the Potsdam Central School website. Include the form and send a check payable to NNY Community Foundation, 120 Washington St., Suite 400, Watertown, NY 13601. The foundation is handling donations and collections for PEOF.