Sitting in my study this week, the needs of the Edmond Public School District have hit me square in the face. As a trustee of for the Edmond Public Schools Foundation (EPSF), I have been given one of the most rewarding tasks in recent memory and also one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever had.
The EPSF is in the middle of its annual grants program with our teachers throughout the Edmond Public Schools, and I as a trustee am charged with helping to decide which grant applications get funded this year. Being able to participate in the process is incredibly rewarding.
Now, here is where it gets difficult. This year the foundation received 89 grant applications for a total of $419,140. The problem is that the foundation has less than $100,000 available to award. That means that more than 75 percent of the dollars requested will not be funded. The needs are real, the dedication is outstanding, but there is a lack of funding to cover these requests.
Each year the foundation awards grants to buy equipment, curriculum, training aids and more for our teachers and school children. Being able to participate in the grant application process and interview teachers asking for grant funds has been, as I said, incredibly rewarding. Seeing the passion and dedication from these very capable members of our community who work tirelessly throughout the years to educate our youth is amazing. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and you can’t end a day of interviews without getting just as excited as the teacher applicants.
But, as I sit here reviewing the 11 applications from Memorial high school, I have realized that the remainder of the process will be quite a challenge. After interviewing five teachers at Orvis Risner Elementary, I had the honor of interviewing 12 teachers and administrators requesting funding for the 11 grants I mentioned earlier. Powerful presentations drove home the needs for just one school. There are 25 schools in the district and all but four schools have submitted applications. And now, I’m going to have to go before the entire foundation board of trustees and advocate that my grants should be funded over the other 78 applications.
How can I persuade 24 other trustees that my grant requests are more deserving than theirs? Why should I even have to do this? Doesn’t the school district have enough funds to provide for our students? Many people right here in Edmond seem to think that the Edmond Public Schools are flush with money. After all, shouldn’t a community as affluent as Edmond have the best schools in the state?
Not exactly. Edmond’s academic success is well-known. We produce our share of National Merit Scholars and have seen success athletically and in the performing arts. But, did you know that per pupil funding for Edmond students is the 23rd lowest in the state? Think about that; 23rd lowest out of more than 530 districts statewide. We are receiving more than $1,000 per student less than the statewide average, and more than $2,400 less per student than the Oklahoma City Public School District receives.
Our schools’ needs are real. Whether it is for technology to ensure that our students can succeed in college and in the workplace, or for novels for our English classes or playground equipment for special needs students or even just books for the school media center, the need is real. The problem is the school district does not have the funds to meet all the needs and obviously the EPS Foundation endowment is not large enough today to support the requests we receive.
Even though the foundation has received some exceptional donations this year, we are a long ways from being able to reach our goal of helping fund the needs of our children in here in Edmond. So now, I must sit back down and work out a strategy for how I can fight to receive almost half the grant money available to award this year, all the while knowing that 24 other trustees are doing the exact same thing. Realistically, 75 percent or more of the dollars requested by Memorial’s teachers may not be funded. Much of that depends on how well I do.
Each and every request is justified. Each and every teacher in Edmond has real needs that I wish we could fully fund. But this year that’s just not possible. If you would like to help, visit http://edmondfoundation.org/ to donate or learn more.
MARK NASH, an Edmond resident for more than 20 years, is president of Pinnacles Partners West LLC, a management consulting firm headquartered in Edmond. He was appointed to the Edmond Public Schools Foundation board of trustees in 2012. A published author, he also is an Edmond Neighborhood Alliance board director, a trustee for the Edmond Economic Development Authority and a member of The Edmond Sun’s Community Editorial Board.