LAFAYETTE— The Lafayette Parish school system and individual schools may soon be able to draw from private donations to pay for new computers, band uniforms or renovations without siphoning money out of the district’s budget.
The Lafayette Parish Fund for Excellence in Public Schools, approved by the School Board in November, is just getting off the ground.
The build-up of the fund, managed by the Community Foundation of Acadiana, has been slow — due in part to limited public awareness of how to donate to it. But that could change this summer with the launch of a media campaign, said Angela Morrison, the school system’s director of community collaborations and partnerships.
Donations so far have provided financial assistance for Northside High’s mock trial team’s travel costs to an international competition in New York, the purchase of Nook e-readers for elementary school students to improve their reading skills and landscaping to beautify campuses.
The summer campaign will coincide with people in back-to-school preparation mode, Morrison said.
“This is an opportunity for them to consider giving to what matters to them,” said Raymond Hebert, the foundation’s CEO and president.
The nonprofit foundation manages funds for various nonprofit groups, families, individuals and corporations across Acadiana.
In 2012, its assets totaled $57.3 million and gifts totaled $18.2 million. In 2012, the foundation awarded $18.1 million in grants in the community.
While other school districts across the country have moved toward private donations to help fund district needs and projects, it’s a fairly new concept for Lafayette, Hebert said.
“It’s really a paradigm shift,” Hebert said.
“People get that they can give money to nonprofits and churches or endow scholarships. What I think most folks don’t get is those opportunities exist for a public school system as well.”
Hebert said another philanthropic misnomer is the size of the donation.
Any amount is accepted and can be directed to wherever a donor chooses, he said.
Morrison said donors have the option to give to the school system, a specific school or specific program.
Donors will soon have the option to designate that their donation be used for needs identified by principals, but the donor may also say their donation should be used for their own pet project, she said.
“For instance, someone who is a graduate of Lafayette High may say I want new lockers,” she said.
However, the fund’s primary purpose is to help support and fund objectives and goals in the district’s turnaround plan, Hebert said.
The turnaround plan, created in 2012, is a six-year plan with recommendations to improve district performance.
As the School Board faces a $6.7 million shortfall in its budget for the upcoming school year, plans to implement the second year of the program are at a standstill.
“As accomplished as Lafayette is, I think this aligns perfectly with Lafayette’s vision of what it wants to be — top of class in everything,” Hebert said. “We want to be the best community in the South. That’s not going to happen with a substandard school system.”