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The Winnetka Current 021617

16 | February 16, 2017 |

16 | February 16, 2017 | The winnetka Current School More than just making cold calls WPSF Phone-A- Thons help fund school extras Libby Elliott Freelance Reporter Most weekdays, after quickly eating lunch in the school cafeteria, sixthgrader Ridley Chafey voluntarily forfeits his outside recess and heads straight for the Maker Space Lab at Skokie School to design gadgets, program animated video clips and build pretty much anything his imagination can conjure up. “My friends and I have a lot of fun there,” Chafey said. “It’s a really creative place.” But what Chafey and pals may not know is that Skokie’s innovative Maker Space facilities were funded, in large part, through a grant provided by the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation (WPSF). For over 20 years, this private, community-supported foundation has quietly financed nearly $4 million worth of innovative curricular initiatives for which Winnetka’s five public schools are renowned. Crow Island School’s beloved 15- year “Crows on Parade” art tradition and Greeley School’s outdoor learning space, “Tinkering in Nature,” are just two of the district’s extras that were underwritten with WPSFawarded teacher grants. “Many WPSF-supported projects are the memory makers for our kids,” said Meredith Meyer, a District 36 parent and co-chair to the Foundation’s Volunteer Board of Directors. “They’re often the cutting-edge, experimental programs that teachers want to introduce, but the District doesn’t always have the luxury to fund.” WPSF’s operating budget is generated through community business sponsorships, large private donations and an annual two-day Phone- A-Thon fundraiser set to take place from Feb. 26- 27. For a total of eight hours, WPSF’s 35-person Board of Directors will gather in space donated by the Winnetka Community House and begin personally calling each District 36 family to appeal for a donation of any size. “Any amount helps,” said Phone-A-Thon Co- Chair Sarah Graham, whose two young children attend Hubbard Woods School. “Our ultimate goal is 100 percent participation from district families.” Unlike other foundations that raise money Skokie School students use new pad casters in their school broadcasting space, all purchased from funding by Winnetka Public Schools Foundation fundraising efforts, mostly through the annual Phone-A-Thon. PHOTO SUBMITTED with lavish galas and silent auctions, the WPSF remains committed to its bare bones, old-school approach to dialing for dollars. Last year, 430 donations were received during the Phone-A-Thon outreach, with over 75 percent of donors giving $100 or more. “We have virtually no overhead with this event,” Meyer said. “When Winnetka residents donate, they should know that all money raised is going directly to our schools.” In the weeks preceding WPSF’s Phone-A-Thon, the foundation hosts its annual Carlson Event, an informational meeting that’s open to the public and aims to educate local residents about the foundation’s mission and contributions to the District. WPSF’s volunteers also give families ample opportunity to “beat the call,” by soliciting mail and online donations prior to the Phone-A Thon kickoff. As an additional boon to this year’s fundraising drive, an anonymous donor has pledged to match up to $10,000 in early donations received before Feb. 26. “When the Phone-A- Thon begins, our volunteers will be on the line, ready to share information about all the projects WPSF has underwritten at your school,” Graham said. “We urge all D36 families to answer the call, if only just to hear our news.” Last year, WPSF disbursed over $120,000 in grants to district teachers and administrators, including a sizeable check to continue building and expanding the highly successful Maker Space at Skokie School, which began three years ago as a smaller, foundationfunded pilot program. The space now consists of three separate rooms comprising a Maker Studio, a digital 3-D learning lab and a fully-equipped broadcasting studio complete with a special effects green screen. Teachers have logged an estimated 3,500 student visits to the lab since its inception. “The Winnetka Public Schools Foundation is constantly working to innovate progressive education in a creative way,” said Skokie School Principal Kelly Tess. “You don’t see this in a lot of other districts, and that enables us to attract and retain teaching talent.” Kathy McDonough, a digital literacy teacher and 18-year veteran of Skokie School, sings the praises of WPSF, which she credits with spearheading the early introduction of technology into the District’s curriculum. “Nearly every piece of technology we started with at Skokie, including the very first iPad, was funded by the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation,” she said. “The Foundation is the foundation of our Maker Space program.” expo From Page 8 eventgoers will have the chance to visit more than 40 vendor booths and participate in interactive activities designed for children of all ages. Fun activities include face painting, a balloon artist, camp games and prizes, and light refreshments. Additionally, popular Glencoe and Winnetka grocer The Grand Food Center will be sponsoring a free “make your own trail mix” station for kids to practice making their own hearty camp snacks. Heather Warthen, chief operating officer for 22nd Century Media, said the company began hosting the event after discovering a need for an all-inone event to prepare North Shore families for summer break and the many local opportunities for kids. “We know that a lot of our readers themselves have attended these camps and now their kids attend the camps, so a couple of years ago, we decided that we should try it out as an expo,” Warthen said. The Camp Expo offers networking opportunities for camps serving the most seasoned of campers to the youngest tykes. “It serves as a chance for campers to meet up with their camps before camp starts in the summer, and it also gives people who have never gone to camp the chance to look for the right fit,” Warthen said. “It’s a good opportunity to ask questions and great face time with the camps, because a lot of them will have their staffers and owners themselves come out for these events.” SOUND OFF the winnetka current | February 16, 2017 | 17 Social snapshot Top Web Stories From as of Feb. 13 From the Editor Get to know your local history 1. Sister act: Former NT students launch nationwide career 2. Winnetka Boy Scouts win Klondike Derby 3. Winnetka reveals stormwater improvement project in limbo 4. A celebration of community and Catholic education 5. Wrestling: NT, LA send qualifiers to sectionals Become a Current Plus member: Jacqueline Glosniak Last week, I interviewed Tane Beecham, the new executive director for the Winnetka Historical Society. While Beecham had wonderful words to say about the group, she mentioned things she hopes to improve, namely outreach and community visibility. I had a nice conversation, getting to know more about Winnetka and hearing her perspective on why local history is important. A few years ago, I spent time involved with my local historical society in North Riverside, mostly filming events and their annual ballroom dance gala. While most members were much older than me, I learned a great deal about what makes the town tick through stories from some of the village’s oldest residents. After my involvement with the historical society, I gained a greater appreciation for my town and continue to try best serving my community through my freelance journalism work. For Winnetkans of all ages, I strongly urge you to check out the Winnetka Historical Society. Whether you are a new or lifelong resident, I guarantee you will leave any historical society event feeling prouder to be a Winnetkan. Besides, if we never learn and appreciate the past, how can we ever have a positive and successful future? letters to the editor Time for taxpayers to pay attention We have been closely following the financial situation at Winnetka District 36 for several years. D36 is the single largest component of our tax bills, and one of the reasons that the Winnetka real estate market is so slow is because our taxes are so high. We have spoken at several meetings, complaining that the District was overtaxing residents by increasing our tax rates the legal maximum every year. It was time to stop raising taxes as a matter of course. To their credit, the Board has made some positive changes. They have greatly slowed (not stopped) the escalation of taxes and have actually abated taxes over the last several years. Even so, D36 has current financial reserves of over $64 million, a fund balance that represents excess taxes over and above expenses. Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s state that AAA rated districts should maintain approximately 50 percent of annual expenses in reserves. D36 has over 150 Like The Winnetka Current: winnetkacurrent Follow The Winnetka Current: @winnetkacurrent go figure The Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District posted on Feb. 9: “We love the sweet thank you cards we received from the 4th graders at Sacred Heart School in Winnetka.” “If faced w/a full lot in front of Northfield Square, don’t forget about the abundance of parking spots available a short walk across Happ Rd” @Northfieldil The Village of Northfield posted on Feb. 10 19 An intriguing number from this week’s edition The age Northfield resident Leween Kay was when she first met her future husband. See the story on Page 12 for more. percent of annual expenses in reserve. Put another way, D36 has excess reserves (taxpayer funds) of over $40 million. Our schools are not set up to be money managers. That was made clear when the last D36 CFO purchased several bonds that were downgraded to levels not permissible for purchase by Illinois school districts. Within the last year, the D36 School Board wisely set aside approximately $30 million of its reserves to pay off the bulk of its expensive debt due to a 2007 referendum and subsequent bond issue. When that debt is retired, the taxes of every property owner in D36 will decline, which should have a favorable impact on the local real estate market. Yet within the last month, the District announced it is now considering spending the surplus on replacing the HVAC systems at all three elementary schools. The potential cost of replacing these systems would consume a sizeable chunk of the funds that have been set aside for debt reduction. While the HVAC systems have been outdated for a long time, spending millions of dollars from reserves is unfair to taxpayers and imprudent given that D36 enrollment continues to plummet. D36’s own forecast is for enrollment to continue to decline annually over the next 5-10 years from the current level of around 1700 students to just over 1500 students in 2026. That level is close to the low enrollment of the 1980’s when the Board prudently closed a school. Over the next several years, the Board will have much more clarity on enrollment and will be able to make a more informed decision about whether to sink millions of dollars into HVAC for a building that may become superfluous. By that time, D36’s fund balance will likely have grown enough to cover the costs. It is time for the School Board to stop penalizing current taxpayers. D36 needs to pay off the debt now and reduce our tax bills. Winnetka taxpayers, if you agree with us, you need to show up at the School Board work session to discuss this topic. It is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Crow Island School. If you cannot attend, please send the Board a letter or email now. It is imperative that you let your voice be heard. Dale and Jim Wyant Winnetka residents The Winnetka Current Sound Off Policy Editorials and columns are the opinions of the author. Pieces from 22nd Century Media are the thoughts of the company as a whole. The Winnetka Current encourages readers to write letters to Sound Off. All letters must be signed, and names and hometowns will be published. We also ask that writers include their address and phone number for verification, not publication. Letters should be limited to 400 words. The Winnetka Current reserves the right to edit letters. Letters become property of The Winnetka Current. Letters that are published do not reflect the thoughts and views of The Winnetka Current. Letters can be mailed to: The Winnetka Current, 60 Revere Drive Ste. 888, Northbrook, IL 60062. Email to jacqueline@