Funding the future

Parents and community members support arts programs at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center with a nonprofit foundation

A decade ago, forward-thinking parents and teachers established a foundation to support arts programs at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, 1 W. 49th St.

Because of repeated budget cuts, rising operating costs and waning enrollment in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), the Foundation continues to grow in importance at the kindergarten through 8th-grade school.

Many other Southwest schools, including South High School, Southwest High School, Washburn High School and Barton Open Elementary School, are turning to similar foundations to help keep programs alive.

The foundations help to provide everything from classroom materials to additional faculty. How much they raise for the schools ranges from $40,000 at Ramsey to $400,000 at Southwest High.

Ramsey's foundation, known simply as the Foundation, supplies teachers with grants for arts projects not covered by the school's regular budget. Even though Ramsey focuses on arts, it doesn't receive additional MPS funding to pay for it.

The volunteer-driven Ramsey foundation handles money raised by the site council (an advisory panel for the school, comprised of parents and teachers) and the parent-teacher organization (PTO).

Last year the foundation invested in CDs for an endowment as a way to stabilize future programs; the endowment has grown to $72,000. The foundation's goal for the coming year is to increase the endowment to $100,000. Its mission is &#8220to provide resources to enrich the life of the community by experiencing fine arts.”

Ramsey parent Kristin Rigg is co-chair of the foundation. Her twin sons Simon and Andrew will be in 3rd-grade at the school this fall. Ramsey's unique arts programs and cultural diversity make it ideal for her family.

&#8220We are taking the bake sale mentality to a new level by investing a portion of it, in addition to going outside our immediate school community for funding to work towards the long-term success of the school's mission.”

How it works

Last year, the foundation funded the school's musical production, &#8220Bye, Bye, Birdie,” a 7th -and 8th-graders' clay whistle project led by Andean musician Leo Lara, and 8th-graders' admission to exhibits and concerts.

It raised $40,000 to be divvied up this year. The foundation disbursed $7,500 to teachers last year (because the foundation set aside money for the endowment fund, that figure was low compared to previous years).

To receive money for projects, teachers apply for a foundation grant. Foundation board members sift through applications, evaluating them on whether or not projects reflect the school's artistic focus, scope, sustainability and feasibility.

Second-grade teacher Sarah Lapp, who's been at Ramsey for 15 years, was awarded a foundation grant last year for $680 for a digital camera, portable printer and photo paper. Students took photos reflecting antibullying themes, which they assembled in journals.

One of Lapp's favorite student snapshots encapsulates the essence of the foundation - a young boy shares his markers with his classmates.

Lapp's applying for a grant this fall for a paddle drum set and mallets for international music lessons.

Lapp said the foundation provides teachers with learning tools enhancing lessons. &#8220Lots of times, money from fundraisers doesn't make it back to teachers,” she said. &#8220I feel very lucky to have this resource available to us.”

Fundraising consultant Michael Henley served as president of Hale Elementary School and Field Elementary School's joint foundation and is currently leading a $1 million fundraising campaign at South High called &#8220Save the Tigers.” He has also trained other school activists in fundraising efforts, including Ramsey foundation board members.

Henley said that while school foundations should be providing extras, over the past few years they've also been working hard to fund the basic tools of education. He said the role of a school foundation is to maintain programs and staff while also stressing to legislators the importance of funding public education. &#8220You can't provide a good workforce and good citizens in the future without a good educational system,” he said.

The goal of the school foundations is to &#8220get people to think differently about how to fund the school system,” said Henley.

For more information about the Foundation or to donate, call 668-4040 or check out www.rifacfoundation.org.

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].