Brookings School District Pursues New Foundation

The Brookings School District has been moving forward with the establishment of a school district foundation with the hopes of providing the district with another means of investing in scholarships for students and grants for teachers, among other things.

Talk about establishing a school district foundation began in early 2018, but plans were paused following the failure of the school district’s opt out measure last April. At the time of the opt out, the district and school board were talking about hiring an executive director to lead the foundation and guide its start.

But school district support for the idea of the foundation never went away, Brookings School District Superintendent Klint Willert said; it was just put on hold because the value of establishing a foundation was still there.

During its November school board meeting, the Brookings School Board granted Willert the ability to proceed again with establishing a Brookings School District foundation.

At the moment, hiring an executive director is not Willert’s top priority; what is the priority is gaining legal recognition as a foundation from the state of South Dakota and as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization from the IRS (although the partial government shutdown might impact how soon that happens).

He hopes that these things can be completed by the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

Once those things are secured, a transitional steering committee can be set up to create and implement the policies and bylaws of the foundation and how the foundation will operate, including such matters as how many people will serve on its governing board and how scholarships for students might be awarded.

That steering committee would consist of members of the community, among other people.

“We’re at the foundation of the foundation,” as Willert put it.

He added, “We’re really excited about what this means to our district. We’re really energetic about how that can support what we’re doing in terms of providing opportunities for students both current and as we think about post-secondary enrollment opportunities that students will have.”

And there is reason for excitement when looking at how the SDSU Foundation and the Brookings Health System foundation have flourished in Brookings. Willert said the school district’s been communicating with them to learn from them how they’ve managed themselves and their work. He called these local foundations a great resource.

There are several advantages that come with setting up a foundation, according to Willert.

The first is that it provides an effective and convenient way to gather and distribute funds for student scholarships.

“That’s really a fundamental purpose behind the idea of a foundation,” Willert said. “There are a number of examples within the region. We can look as close as Madison, South Dakota, to look at a really effective foundation structure, one that’s been going on for a number of years.”

He’s no stranger to school district foundations himself, either, having served as superintendent in a couple of school districts that had established foundations.

He said that at the moment, the school district does hold funds donated to the district for scholarship use that they then invest to grow those dollars. However, the investment strategy that they employ there is limited by state law.

“With a foundation, you can have an investment strategy that’s maybe a little bit more aggressive; still conservative, but a little more aggressive than what by state statute we’re allowed to do in the school district,” Willert said.

There are also tax advantages that come with foundations.

“We want to grow slowly and intentionally to ensure that this is sustainable long-term. As we do so, we also understand that growth will ultimately depend on what we see in terms of donations and support that come from the community, alumni, and the like,” Willert said.

Other successful school foundations have been able to use some of their money as grant money that’s available for that district’s teachers.

These grants would help teachers bring innovative or new projects into the classroom, Willert said, or they might help cover the costs of some supplies or materials. Either way, it provides teachers with another means of supporting classroom activities that might not otherwise come about.

“We know that we are blessed with a super group of teachers who are testing new things, trying new ideas, determining what engages students the most and the teaching and learning experience,” Willert said, and a foundation can help “support these efforts.”

Although not an intentional consequence, school district foundations frequently take on a sort of marketing role for the school district they serve as they reach out to the community and alumni seeking donations and talk about the good things happening in the district.

“As school districts establish foundations, they find that that’s one of the unintended consequences and benefits of having that type of a structure, to connect with and inform and engage with alumni,” Willert said.

Once the foundation has been set up and is ready to begin its work, Willert envisions some sort of launch event to celebrate. Other districts have done such things as big dinners, auctions or golf outings.

“We’ll want to look to eventually do some things like that, but again, that’s a ways down the road yet,” he said. “I want this to be fun for everybody because it is a celebration. That’s what it is. It’s a celebration for those who’ve gone before through the system, whether teachers or students, to say, yeah, I had a great experience as a Brookings Bobcat and I want to give back. That becomes a celebration for our existing students and faculty as well.”

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

Contact Eric Sandbulte at esandbulte@brookingsregister.com.

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