Johnson County has always been willing to pay for good schools. With that fact in mind, the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation has set some goals to make a difference for all students across the district.
The big goal is to raise an unrestricted endowment that would provide regular, sustainable money that the district can use as needed. This is not a change in the mission of the foundation, but a vision of how the foundation can best support all Shawnee Mission students, says Linda Roser, the executive director of the foundation. The foundation also will continue to provide the traditional grants and scholarships just as it has in the past, Roser says. SMEF has given unrestricted grants to the district over the last two years.
Over the last several years, the district has been forced to cut millions of dollars from its budget as state funding has dwindled. Additionally, the district is not allowed to increase its property tax levy to avoid reductions in the operating budget. An often talked about advantage of voluntary funding through the foundation is that all of the money stays in the district. Tax money that is sent to the state and returned for school support is equalized across the state – returning only a fraction of every dollar back to Johnson County.
“Now is the time to commit that we will provide the best education possible,” Roser says. Benchmarking successful foundations led SMEF to look at the university model of endowments that produce a continuing resource with its earnings. But, SMEF is “not running a campaign” for an endowment, Roser says, it is trying to share the vision with the community.
On a separate front, SMEF is focusing on three key areas to make a difference for students: instrumental music, early childhood education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). For instrumental music it will use a grassroots effort to get contributions.
Early childhood is focused on the Smart Start program for four-year-olds that now serves 180 students. It has proven to make a huge impact on later school achievement, Roser says, and there are two empty classrooms where service could be expanded if enough money can be raised to sustain more instruction.
The STEM program can connect with businesses directly to stay ahead of the training that students will need for future employment. It can raise money to upgrade equipment, start new programs and develop curriculum, Roser says.
The foundation was established in 1989 and began awarding funds in 1993.