Education Foundation Opposes Creation of New Fundraising Group

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A Town Council subcommittee has floated the idea of creating a new non-profit group to raise money for the Watertown Schools, but members of the Watertown Education Foundation say they fill that role.

Education Foundation President Amy Donohue made an appeal at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting to let her group continue what it has been doing, and asked for the help of the Council, the School Committee and other officials in town.

After she spoke, Councilor Tony Palomba, who brought up the idea of creating a new group at the Education and School System Matters subcommittee meeting, said the proposal was just a draft designed to start discussions aimed at finding new ways to add funding to the Watertown Public Schools. (Click here to see more on the proposal for the new group and other strategies to get more school funding).

He suggested inviting the Education Foundation and other groups that raise money for the school (including the Watertown Community Foundation and the Friends of Watertown Music) to discuss fundraising strategies.

The Council agreed and another meeting of the Education and School System Matters subcommittee will be scheduled. The Council also voted to  have the Town Attorney review the proposal to see how town elected officials and town staff can participate in a non-profit group.

See the full text of the letter read by Amy Donohue below:

Council Members,

My name is Amy Donohue.  I am a parent, educator, and – most importantly – officially speaking in my capacity as President of the Watertown Education Foundation.  I am here tonight, along with other board members, to ask you to consider a more elegant solution to the WCEC vote put before the Council.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, the WEF was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) to enhance the Watertown students’ educational experience and has been incredibly active in the community since its start.

The idea of creating an entirely separate, although, larger system, to leverage fundraising capacity, blurs the lines of our charter and your attempts to creatively solve a budget shortfall.  While we appreciate finally being acknowledged by the town council for the successful fundraising activity we’ve experienced over the last few years, it’s also disheartening for the Council to suggest what we’ve done isn’t enough.  To be clear, even if this town had a complete and fully funded educational budget, we would still do what we do.  Our mission is to enrich not to fulfill any baseline funding standards.  Unfortunately, impaired by years of budget restrictions, our efforts have been interpreted as a stopgap for fundamental district needs.

From what’s been presented in the WCEC initiative, this is a welcome call to action, especially from the likes of the WEF.  As a concerned citizen, this unfortunately appears by all standards as a call to assemble a redundant 501(c)(3) to raise money for the schools – as previously indicated and unfortunately unheard, it turns out there’s already one here.  What’s most embarrassing is that the WEF has continually asked for support from the town council, school committee, school administration, and other concerned parents ready, willing, and able to take some initiative – to be quite honest with you, we stand here tonight, united as we always do, and ask the same of all of you yet again.  We as a long-standing board, with a rich history, continue to look for committed volunteers to join in our efforts.

While we applaud these fresh efforts, it’s apparent there is a duplication of efforts to quickly engineer and pave a road we’ve been traveling for years.

From our review, even on its own, the WCEC idea really requires a more thorough and thoughtful vetting process.  It’s important to note as a response to the nice idea you’ve been presented, that the WEF has experience and qualification in almost every imaginable capacity to take on new members and work towards the common goals we all share.

There are a number of pressing issues to address.  First, I trust and hope I am not the first to alert you that there have been reams of dialogue around the idea of unifying the fundraising efforts between so many organizations in town, and also quite humbly suggest you do not even have all of the correct fundraising organizations that support the schools, involved.  Second, I am fearful to hear our government might be in the business of chartering a fundraising body for budgetary reasons.  Most importantly, every fundraising organization is competing for the same dollar.  How would it work to have the WCEC created with reps from each of our town’s fundraising groups mentioned in the proposal?  We would be competing against ourselves.  As it stands, we don’t have enough able bodies and resources to do something on a larger scale and your idea would seemingly dismantle the one fundraising vehicle that supports all the schools in Watertown.

We also appreciate your expectation that all of these people from different groups will come to work in a unified fashion. We’ve been begging these same entities to come together in much the same manner with little to no support, and I know for a fact as a group we are not alone in this frustration.  To be frank, creating another non-profit would further dilute the pool of talent, bandwidth, donation dollars, and position existing groups for failure.

We at the Watertown Education Foundation, as committed volunteers, scratch our heads at an idea of reinventing the wheel that would turn a blind eye to the only organization in town dedicated solely to our children’s education.  We also question why such an idea would even make it to the surface let alone require us to come before you this evening to essentially defend our very mission.

As elected officials, we as constituents know you will consider our humble but experienced suggestions.  Thank you for your time, and more importantly, your fresh burst of interest in our collective educational system.

Amy Donohue
Watertown Education Foundation, Inc.

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