2018-08-26 / Insight

Grants instrumental to supplement budget to fund programs, expenses

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com


Last year, North Branch Area Schools were able to hire a near-peer advisor, John Amboy (right) who has worked with North Branch High School counselors Natalee Rodriguez and Amy Hyrman providing insight on post-secondary education. Amboy’s position was made possible through a grant from the Michigan College Access Network. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Last year, North Branch Area Schools were able to hire a near-peer advisor, John Amboy (right) who has worked with North Branch High School counselors Natalee Rodriguez and Amy Hyrman providing insight on post-secondary education. Amboy’s position was made possible through a grant from the Michigan College Access Network. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LAPEER COUNTY — Nearly twothirds of every dollar headed into the general fund of a school district in Lapeer County is earmarked for instruction. Whether the funds are generated by federal sources, state taxes or local millages, the results are the same — the majority of a school’s general fund budget is applied directly to the students.

While the general fund budget pays for a variety of aspects of running a district — in addition to instruction, the largest expenditure categories are administration expenses, operations, transportation and instructional support — there’s still a need to fund projects that might not be getting a slice of that budgetary pie.

That’s where grants come in. Millions in grant money is made available each year statewide by various public, private and corporate entities, and often the districts that receive that money are the ones that make the effort to effectively establish the need for the added resources. Whether it’s a passion project, a quality-of-life improvement or a supplement to an existing program, grant funds can often support an expenditure that would otherwise slip through the cracks.

“I personally enjoy taking on grant work,” said Amber White, director of curriculum at North Branch Area Schools and part of a team at the district that identifies and pursues grants. “With grants, we’re able to fund programs you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. We’re always going for grants.”

A recent grant awarded to North Branch Area Schools allowed the district to hire a “near-peer” advisor, John Amboy, who throughout the past year shared insight about the college experience regarding post-secondary options with high school students. The hire was made possible through a grant from the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), which averages to $10,000 per year of a three-year program that covered the cost of training and salary for Amboy. The grant was secured in large part through the efforts of North Branch High School councilors Natalee Rodriguez and Amy Hyrman. The district is one of only eight districts selected last year as an MCAN grant recipient.

White said her district has secured over $100,000 in grants over the past few years, funding everything from books to technology, from continuing programs to brand new ones. “We’ve gone for some big grants — you know, you have to dream big,” she said. “If you can put in the time and the elbow grease, why not?”

While last year’s MCAN grant was significant, often smaller, local grants have just as much impact on the lives of students. “There are things local that teachers can take advantage of,” said White.

One local source of grant funding is the Lapeer County Community Foundation (LCCF), which yearly provides funds to various proposals, including those originating from the county’s schools. Last year, the LCCF provided approximately $43,000 in funding to Lapeer County schools, either completely or partially funding projects related to STEM, robotics, books and technology. “We fund depending on the projects that come before us,” said LCCF Executive Director Nancy Boxey. “We really like to not just provide funds but partner with other groups to fund projects.” Boxey said that most recently, the LCCF, along with several other area groups, contributed funds to purchase a new softball scoreboard for Dryden Community Schools.

Each grant proposal is considered individually by LCCF’s Board, said Boxey, and funding is determined by a variety of metrics, including need, number of people affected, and whether the subset of students represents an underserved portion of the community. “They’re very thoughtful, and the biggest thing they ask is ‘does this (proposal) make sense? What’s it going to take to make this happen?” said Boxey.

The LCCF’s youth-oriented branch, the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) also gets in on the grant-giving action, and through the past four years have provided nearly $20,000 to Lapeer County schools in their own right. The YAC is comprised of students from eighth-12th grade and each school district in the county is represented in their ranks. Jennifer Phillips, LCCF’s YAC Advisor, said the group looks at each proposal very closely, and determine which get funded based on need. “The kids are actually tougher than the adult Review Board,” she said. “They make sure it’ll affect several people, and how it is going to affect someone’s life in a positive way.”

Last year, the YAC distributed a survey to students in each of the county’s middle and high schools asking students to identify aspects of their day-to-day life they felt their schools needed to improve. The results of that survey, said Phillips, indicated four major areas — bullying, drug use, distracted driving and school safety — and this year, YAC will be looking to fund grants targeting those four areas.

“We put out a request for proposals in all middle and high schools in the county,” said Phillips. That request, she said, asks each school to propose a program that with YAC funds aims to tackle one of those four major issues, up to $1,500. The proposals are due Sept. 28, and during the group’s meeting in early October they’ll determine which of the proposals will receive full or partial funding. This year, the YAC will distribute up to $12,920.

“We have a really good partnership with the schools,” said Boxey. “We try to be that body that helps fund some of those projects that might not have taken off otherwise. The goal is to get the money into the community.”

Grants are a way to allow educators to pursue their passions as they benefit the students, said White, and through partnerships with organizations like the LCCF, it limits the need to tap into general fund budgets. It also allows districts to financially support the passions of the students themselves, as they arise. “It kids take the initiative for something, you have to figure out some creative ways to fund that,” White said. “Grants, donations, business support and creative partnerships are a way to do that.”

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