After a decade of supporting Leander ISD, a nonprofit program is ready to take the next step to provide long-term support to students, faculty and staff.
Sean Ziari, president of the Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation board of directors, said the board has discussed the endowment fund for about a year.
“[The endowment fund] is really an investment into the future of the foundation,” he said. “We feel like LEEF got to this position after 10 years of continuous growth, due to the hard work of Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, and board members, past and present, we can now set aside some money for the future of LEEF.”
LEEF was founded in 2007 to help provide resources that support innovation, enrichment and equity in pursuit of academic excellence within the school district.
“It’s exciting to know that this is a way of creating sustainability for the many different programs LEEF supports,” said Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, executive director of the foundation.
While donations to the foundation will go back to the school district through grants or other funds, the quasi-endowment—a non-restricted fund—will provide long-term funding for ongoing projects, Ziari said. These funds are to be invested to generate income for a lengthy, unspecified time period.
“If we have some ups and downs in the economy and we’re not able to meet our goals and challenges, we can always go back to the quasi-endowment and bring some money back,” Ziari said.
Ziari said right now the board is expecting to have about $100,000 set aside over the next three years.
New ideas for growth within the foundation started about two years ago, said Gonzales-Dholakia. Before then, LEEF was completely volunteer-based and was beginning to see more needs from schools.
“For us to meet more of those needs, we were going to have to raise a lot more money,” she said.
Each year members of the foundation’s board meet with executive staff from the school district when planning LEEF’s budget. These meetings give the foundation direction and guidance to ensure it is supporting the goals and initiatives of LISD, Gonzales-Dholakia said.
Funding has helped students pay for Advanced Placement tests, which cost $93, as well as starting new programs within the school district.
“We’re incredibly thankful to have partners in our community who work with us to ensure that our students who put in the work to take an AP course and want to earn college credit, have the chance to do so without economics determining their success,” Gonzales-Dholakia said.
LISD Interim Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Bailey said students and staff have benefited from resources and support the foundation has provided.
“LEEF has proven that it strives to improve outcomes for all students. We fully support LEEF’s efforts to establish an endowment to further ensure its long-term investment in LISD,” Bailey said.
The LEEF board is working on its endowment campaign that can be used to approach potential donors.
“We are going to identity new donors that might be interested, possibly alumni, former employees and folks who really have that relationship and kinship with the district and say, ‘Hey, I really want to give back to my school district through gifts,’” Ziari said.
These gifts could be in the form of cash gifts, appreciated securities, life insurance, estate bequests, other appreciated assets such as real estate, mineral and/or gas rights, charitable remainder trusts, and gifts from retirement accounts.
Few foundations in the Austin area are able to feel comfortable establishing an endowment fund, Ziari said, and he is excited to see the foundation move forward and be prepared to work through what he called “possible growing pains.”
“Little Leander ISD is no longer little, so not only do I think the school district is going to go through some growing pains, but so is the foundation,” he said. “The unknown excites me; I’m really excited about the future and what this can potentially be for the community and the schools.”
The fund will be managed by Austin Community Foundation.
For more information on the foundation, call 512-570-0027 or visit http://leanderedfound.org.