NEW ULM - Adversity can be the engine of success.
An failure to pass school operating levy in a referendum in 2011 unleashed a conversation about alternative school funding sources, releasing pent-up energy among community members with a strong interest in New Ulm Public Schools.
The immediate impact was the formation of a group called Friends of ISD 88 - which launched several major fundraising efforts to quickly ease pressures on the school budget.
Staff photo by Kremena Spengler
The members of the all-volunteer Executive Committee of the ISD 88 Foundation meet at their impromptu “office” at Lola’s in New Ulm. Pictured, left to right, are Tim Knaak, Marlys Zetah, Marka Stocker and Tracie Vranich.
At the same time, volunteers (some of them involved in both groups) also began a process geared toward more of a long-term, sustained impact - the formation of an ISD 88 Foundation.
The Foundation is now a fact. It is being launched publicly this month.
The ISD 88 Foundation provides a new opportunity to support the public school system over the long-term, explains Tracie Vranich, Chair of the all-volunteer Foundation Board. One (but not the only one) way is through planned or "legacy" giving - a vehicle for donors that was non-existent in the past.
While the Friends of ISD 88 (as well as site-specific groups such as the Friends of Jefferson School and the Friends of Washington School) respond to more immediate needs and function more like PTAs, promoting school spirit - the Foundation has a stated goal of providing the district with a perpetual source of funds to enhance student achievement and development, explain Vranich and other other members of the Foundation Board's Executive Committee (Tim Knaak, Marka Stocker and Marlys Zetah also participated integrally in this conversation).
The Foundation's structure allows it to manage larger donations: such as estate and legacy giving, alumni giving and contributions by those that wish to give into perpetuity. In a key opportunity, it will enable tax-deductible donations, having obtained 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
The Foundation is seeking to create an endowment, a permanent fund with a longer-term goal of $1 million in assets, while funding also some current projects to have an immediate impact. With the response it has received so far, the Foundation is off to a good start.
"Our mission is to enhance the quality of education in District 88 while creating partnerships between the school, community and alumni," states the Board. "We won't fund the fundamentals but will fund projects which are outside the district's budget."
The Foundation will fund projects that enhance education in a concerted way, said Board members. School staff will submit proposals.
"We are looking for innovative, 'dare-to-dream,' 'outside-of-the-box,' 'what-are-other-schools-doing-that-we-aren't' kind of ideas," says Vranich.
The projects will be assessed by a diverse selection committee. Proposals will be reviewed by district staff to ensure implementation is feasible. The selection criteria will include "broad impact," "innovative" and "first-time applicants."
This method allows the foundation to be flexible with what it funds, looking at the projects that rise to the top each year, said the Board members.
The Foundation is independent of the district but will work with district staff in determining the best use of funds.
"Alumni relations represent an unmet need of the district, and we can fill that role as we compile alumni contact information as part of our efforts," also says Vranich.
The newly-formed Alumni Association of the ISD 88 Foundation is compiling a database of more than 10,000 alumni who have graduated from the district since 1936. They are seeking the names, addresses, phone numbers and addresses of all living graduates. A periodic newsletter will be sent to alumni to keep them connected to their school and informed of news, programs, accomplishments and needs.
The Alumni Association has also decided to start a Hall of Fame to honor outstanding graduates or retired staff of the New Ulm High School. The driving force behind the idea is Jim Senske, the beloved retired teacher and coach who is also a member of the Foundation Board.
The Hall of Fame desires to include a cross section of achievers in many different fields - areas such as agriculture, arts, professions, education, athletics, community service and science and technology.
It will attempt to honor individuals who have succeeded above the norm and have a made a difference in the communities in which they live - manifesting to current students that there are many different ways to lead full, productive, meaningful lives.
Eligibility requirements include graduation at least 10 years ago and demonstrating integrity, initiative, trustworthiness, responsibility, fairness, caring and sound character.
Future plans include an annual banquet to honor the recipients of these awards.
The Alumni Association is issuing a strong appeal to the public to nominate, or if they prefer, to simply suggest potential nominees. It is calling on those wishing to nominate someone or suggest a name do so by April 6.
Nomination forms are available at the Foundation's web site, www.isd88foundation.org or on the ISD 88 Foundation FaceBook page.
For information or to donate contact Tracie Vranich at 507-276-1958 or the Foundation at email@example.com.
Jim Senske (Alumni Committee) can be reached at 507-359-3042 or firstname.lastname@example.org.