For a nine-member steering committee working to establish a Reynoldsburg Education Foundation, opportunity is the name of the game.

The idea is to find ways to support programs and projects that aren't funded as part of the district budget.

School board Vice President Debbie Dunlap, also a member of the committee, said the idea of an education foundation has been talked about informally for several years. After a 2013 federal court ruling (Capital Gymnastics Booster Club Inc. vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue) changed the way schools raise money, the need became more apparent, she said.

The ruling upheld a decision by the IRS to revoke the booster club's nonprofit tax exemption for crediting individual students with money raised through common means such as selling candy or wrapping paper. The court found that because the club allowed individuals to "work off" their dues, the fundraising was not charitable.

The ruling did not affect parent groups or organizations that hold fundraisers in order to purchase items or support programs that benefit large numbers of children. Organizers hope to launch the Reynoldsburg Education Foundation this summer to benefit classroom grants and student scholarships.

"Mini grants are for those projects that teachers have a desire to do but that there isn't really funding for," Dunlap said. "This may even be something that they have contemplated spending their own dollars on."

She said the scholarships "can mean a variety of things. It could be designated donor dollars for someone in the community who wants to start a scholarship fund or it could also mean providing scholarships for students and activities."

An education foundation could help with things such as the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., said Margaret Mary Luzny, an educational paraprofessional at Summit Road Elementary and a former district parent who is also on the steering committee. The trip has long been considered a "rite of passage" for Reynoldsburg students, but many struggle with the cost, Luzny said.

Dunlap said the cost for this year's trip was $620, divided into four payments of $155 due throughout the school year.

"When my son was in eighth grade, so many of his peers weren't going to have that opportunity because it was a financial burden," Luzny said.

"A community is as strong as its schools. We need to realize in today's world there are roadblocks that are put up, financially, for our students, and we, as a community, need to remove those roadblocks."

In addition to Dunlap and Luzny, committee members include Superintendent Melvin Brown; district Treasurer Tammy Miller; Trevor Horn, a Reynoldsburg High School paraprofessional staff member; City Council member Kristin Bryant; and community members and district parents Jeanette Kuder, Sandy Long and Dr. Christopher Washington.

Once the Reynoldsburg Education Foundation is established, Dunlap said, the goal is to have a board of directors and committees that work on things such as promotion, fundraising and awarding grants.

Reynoldsburg's foundation will be set up through the Columbus Foundation, an organization that manages charitable funds, trusts and endowments for organizations throughout central Ohio.

"Then the real work begins and that's growing this organization," Dunlap said. "It will be baby steps for a few years and we'll be looking for many, many volunteers. We're looking for ways to connect our alumni with our students and to do it in meaningful ways, not just financial."

The committee has met with officials from Teays Valley Local, Whitehall and Gahanna city schools, all districts with established education foundations.

"What we found is that most school districts have an education foundation. I think we're playing catch-up a little bit," Dunlap said. "It really serves as sort of a cheerleader -- every district that we have talked to has so much enthusiasm behind what they do. It brings a community together to rally behind students in a way like nothing else."

The committee wrapped up a logo contest last week that sought designs from Reynoldsburg High School students that included "key words" from the foundation's mission statement: empower, enrich and enhance.

A winner is expected to be announced later in May.

Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools students are in the process of building the foundation's website, Dunlap said.

Luzny said the best part about starting an education foundation is knowing that money will stay local.

"I see the foundation being that opportunity -- not to offset district finances, but to continue the innovation and the development of our students," she said. "We can find people here, in our community, who want to support those projects. Everyone is winning when the money gets spent on our students. As a community, at a grassroots level, we can make these things happen for our kids."

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