Ad-hoc committee explores possibility of Student Support Foundation

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

At its February meeting the Board of Trustees of the Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to investigate the creation of a Student Support Foundation. This week, the Director of Education Heather Campbell and Superintendent of Business Meghan Cox have provided some more details about the purpose of the proposed foundation.

The ad hoc committee has been created to explore the possibility of the foundation, because there isn’t an existing committee which includes that work in its mandate.

“The Board has the ability to strike an ad hoc committee to look at, investigate or deal with a matter that’s within their purview but is not covered within an existing committee,” Campbell said.

Campbell added that right now, the purpose of the ad hoc committee is investigatory. No final decisions have been made.

“We’ll explore, should we have a foundation? If so, what should its mandate be? What should its focus be? What are the considerations to help it be successful? What are some considerations that might pose challenges for the foundation?” Campbell said, “We’re still in the exploratory stage as far as establishing a foundation for the Board.”

The committee will be exploring the proposed foundation’s possible role as a separate fundraising arm for many facets of school life, school nutrition programming, poverty relief, support of extracurriculars and student bursaries and post-secondary scholarships.  Establishing a foundation with charitable status may garner additional school fundraising opportunities, including corporate and legacy donations and larger fundraising events.

Nutrition programs are the focus for the proposed foundation.  Last spring, when this year’s budget was approved, the Board supported an investment in school nutrition funding for the 2022-23 school year and a significant investment to support a school nutrition fund in the future.  This initiative prompted the establishment of the ad hoc committee.

Every school in the Board has a breakfast programs, which ensure students start the day on the right foot, with funding from a wide variety of sources. Some schools also have lunch programs and others have weekend backpack programs which give kids non-perishable food items to bring home with them on weekends to help families in need.

“We know that is never enough,” Campbell said in reference to the current programming available. “We also know that with the rising cost of food, the cost of living increases. There are greater and greater needs within our district and greater incidence of food insecurity.”

“We know that programming can be sustained for a short time, but how much more do we need to sustain it going further?” Campbell said. “Especially as we know that some of our external funding opportunities for nutrition programming are seeing decreased dollars being allocated in their direction.”

“A number of the programs that are in place are offered by specific pots of funding, so there’s no broad or consistent approach to funding for some of those programs,” Cox added. “For instance, there may be a service club that’s able to fund a portion of a program for a period of time, there may be a nonprofit organization that’s able to fund some of that programming for another period of time, but it’s not a consistent or systemic approach that’s necessarily sustainable going forward.”

The foundation may also find a role in supporting other basic needs.

“Then we step back from nutrition programming and see that we have students that may not be able to afford snow pants, or they don’t have warm mitts or they don’t have gym shoes, for instance,” Campbell said. “We kept thinking about the various needs. We’re seeing increased needs within our school system and wanting to do something to help students across our system, from kindergarten to grade 12.”

Campbell also stressed that the whole school district does not have the same volunteer or fundraising base as Fort Frances does.

“Fort Frances is a larger centre.  We have other schools located in smaller centres which may not have the base,” Campbell said. “So it’s important to think about the fact that there are areas or communities that may have struggled to fundraise or even just the size of the school would not generate the funds needed. We certainly want to provide support to our students so they can be successful not only in their academic studies, but also just to support their overall well-being.”

The initiation of a foundation is not meant to replace existing Fort Frances High School booster clubs.  In light of the tremendous responsibility and accountability inherent in fundraising, booster clubs could possibly be invited to come under the umbrella of the potential foundation so that they may be able to benefit from the Board’s charitable number, said Campbell. This may be an option for booster clubs to consider, not a requirement, and would be dependent on whether the clubs’ focus meets the Canada Revenue Agency’s guidelines for charitable organizations, she said. Although there are three vibrant booster clubs throughout the region, there are several smaller sports and smaller schools who lack booster clubs and the support they provide; the student support foundation may find a role in bridging that gap, and create greater equity for all athletes.

Campbell added that she hopes the foundation can help students be more involved with extracurriculars and field trips, because the cost of transportation has risen considerably.

“That isn’t a criticism of our transportation partners, but a reality that we’re all feeling as we drive to and from work every day,” said Campbell. “We have extracurriculars across our Board and we’re a district that spans Atikokan to Rainy River. It’s really important that people see that there are rising costs and a tremendous need across the district.”

To date, the Ad Hoc Committee has had an introductory meeting. The committee will recommend on the establishment of a Student Support Foundation. This will include overseeing stakeholder consultation and feedback to recommend a foundation structure which ensures representation from across the District and maximum support of the public, as well as incorporation and application for charitable status should the recommendation be to move forward with the foundation establishment, said Campbell.