Rockford Education Foundation seeks crowdfunded assistance

Teacher Mrs. Werth and her classroom accept the big check as part of the Rockford Education Foundation’s mini-grant program.

By Alaina Rooker

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Program reaching out to community members to help alleviate school deficit

In an era where crowdfunding sites like gofundme and kickstarter are used to shoulder the cost of everything from medical bills to movie production, not even schools are immune to the hype.

The Rockford Education Foundation, or REF, is hoping to lighten the load of recent Rockford Area Schools’ budget cuts and failed levy with their latest campaign to establish an annual fund through Gesture.com. The annual fund, called Rocket Launch, is hoping to raise $100,000 to offset inadequate funding for the 2017-18 school year.

The idea to start the fund came when an anonymous donor gave $50,000 to the REF in late March. The donor’s desire was that it would continue to fund the physical education program, which had been at risk of losing nearly that much in funding for the next school year. At a fall 2016 school board meeting, a preliminary list of budget reduction options had named the district’s physical education program at around the $50,000 mark.

Using the donation as a jumping off point, the Foundation started the Rocket Launch with a goal to raise another $50,000 through local families by June 30.

Fund dollars will be used strictly to aid those programs and activities that would otherwise be cut due to lack of funding this school year. “The money raised is for classroom needs, but a priority is put on anything we can do to help budget cuts,” said Kelly Grimm, Executive Director of the Rockford Education Foundation.

Fourth grade teacher Mr. Neff and his class explore on Chromebooks, which were gifted from the Rockford Education Foundation. Without the additional support, many modern classroom tools like these would not be available to students.

The Rockford School District is facing a $515,000 deficit for the upcoming school year, and has relied heavily on donations. Despite support, the district will also dip into their fund balance, a move that puts the school at risk should any unexpected financial hardship occur.

The Foundation was started back in 2004 by a group of parents who saw the district go through multiple failed referendums. To date, the 501(c)3 has raised $528,000 to help alleviate district needs, and also fund small grants for teachers.

Currently, the Foundation has not reached out to area businesses to donate to the Rocket Launch campaign. “We are focusing primarily on parents and grandparents,” said Grimm. “Grandparents have especially been a great help.”

Interested donors may visit the crowdfunding website at www.refdonate.gesture.com, or fill out a form on the REF facebook page if they’d prefer to send in a donation via mail.

Grimm brought up a recent post to the Foundation’s facebook page. The user reasoned that if all 2,000 of those who voted yes to pass last fall’s referendum gave a little over 20 dollars every month for a year, the upcoming year’s deficit would be satisfied.

While Grimm acknowledged that the post oversimplified some of the calculations, “the thinking was there,” and its positive response and comments showed that the community was listening.

In materials sent to residents in the district’s community, the suggested donation is set at $25 per enrolled child. At that rate, the Foundation could reach its $100,000 goal.

“It’s our first one time ever doing something like this, and we’d like it to continue,” says Grimm.

The Foundation has managed to drum up $55,325 as of press time, and will continue to work until the June 30 deadline.

“Any amount is fantastic,” said Grimm. “I don’t care if it’s $10.”