Earlier this fall, a group of residents relaunched the Rye Fund for Education, a non-profit supporting the Rye City School District. MyRye.com spoke with Ronda Gilroy, the group’s board president, to better understand the mission of the group.
Your Name: Ronda Gilroy, president
Organization: Rye Fund for Education (RFE)
MyRye.com: What is the purpose of the RFE?
Gilroy: The goal of the Rye Fund for Education is to enhance the educational experience for students in the Rye City School District. RFE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation operating as a non-partisan public charity supported entirely by donations and is governed by a board of private citizens.
We strive to enrich the learning experiences of Rye City School students by helping to support the funding needed for important and innovative projects that are beyond the scope of RCSD’s annual budget. RFE is committed to the belief that every student should have access to what is needed to reach their full potential in all areas of education, including academics, arts and athletics, and ensuring that they have the opportunities and skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond.
Tell us the origin story of RFE–who started it and why?
Gilroy: The Foundation was conceived by a few parents shortly after Frank Alvarez was hired as Superintendent. Dr. Alvarez had come from Montclair, New Jersey where the schools were supported by an active foundation.
Laura Slack, then School Board President, had initial discussions with these parents about forming the Foundation and these parents, Mary Emery, Jamie Jensen, Lora Katsikas and Richard Slack started the foundation. After the more than a year long process of forming a foundation with a charter, governing documents and obtaining the 501(c)(3) status, Kim Abate joined the foundation as a trustee and sixteen families who would become the founding donors contributed the approximately $500,000 to start the foundation.
Is the Rye City School District well funded? If so, what is the need and criteria for RFE project funding versus programming that would or should be funded by the school operating or capital budget?
Gilroy: Rye spends less per student than most of our neighboring School Districts ($6,000 less per year than Chappaqua and Scarsdale). The true value tax rate in Rye is the lowest of any community in Westchester County; coupled with the NYS 2% tax cap, this leaves the RCSD schools underfunded compared to peer districts.
Most successful neighboring districts (Bronxville, Chappaqua and Scarsdale) also have robust educational foundations that bridge the gap between the operating budget and the costs of innovative programming, initiatives and equipment.
The PTO groups also raise funds for the schools. What’s the role of RFE in fundraising and how does this compliment the PTO efforts?
Gilroy: The POs/ PTOs mission is to positively impact the lives of all children and families in our community through advocacy, leadership, and communication. The fundraising efforts of the organizations support many programs that enrich students’ experiences inside and outside the classroom in a given school year. The Rye Fund for Education was established to provide support, beyond the Rye City School District’s operating budget, for initiatives that enhance the educational experience for students.
What might new – or even longer term – residents understand about school funding and where the RFE can play a role?
Gilroy: The main thing to understand about school funding is that although the property values in Rye are high, this does not translate to a robust school budget. The true tax rate in Rye is the lowest in Westchester County and this directly impacts our per student spend. (see below charts)
The RFE is a 501c3. How much funding has been raised since inception, how much has been deployed, and how many projects have been funded?
Gilroy: The Foundation has been able to fund the many projects to date, including Project Based Learning Initiative, technology for the math departments of the RMS and RHS, renovate the middle school/high school band room in partnership with the RHS and RMS PO, the Deane Flood fitness center, the softball field in conjunction with the softball booster club and the Science Courtyard was built with the School District and continues to be an ongoing fundraiser. The SAFE campaign which raised approximately $185,000 helped the District to open safely during the covid pandemic
Tell us about the S.A.F.E. Campaign run during the pandemic. (
Gilroy: The SAFE campaign was a community fundraising campaign to support Safe Academics for Everyone in the Rye City Schools during COVID-19. The campaign raised approximately $185,000 to assist our schools through the pandemic.
You are relaunching RFE post pandemic with a new fundraising goal–what are your goals?
Gilroy: The goal of RFE remains to provide moneys to support areas critical to enriching our students’ educational experience and to provide funding for the high-quality public-school education we have come to expect in Rye. Given the effects being felt across the country post pandemic school closings, we strongly feel that now is the time to engage the support and energies of educators, citizens, parents, students and alumni to continue to support our mission.
RFE has a grant making process that will be available to both students and to faculty. How do students and faculty qualify, and what is your expectation for the scale of this program in 2023, 2024 and beyond?
Gilroy: Teachers and administrators across the Rye City School District are eligible to apply for a grant from the Rye Fund for Education. Grants are designed to strengthen the curriculum, foster innovation, and enrich the educational experience of RCSD students. As the program grows, RFE intends to offer another grant pathway to students directly.
What is an insta-grant versus a traditional grant?
Gilroy: Insta-Grants are used to fund innovative ideas costing $2,500 or less and which do not require significant implementation support from RCSD.
Traditional Grants funds innovative ideas in excess of $2,500 or which require significant district support to implement.
The application process is the same for both pathways, however it is the insta-grant pathway in which RFE can offer a timeline in which a project can be implemented for immediate student impact.
Tell us about the current fundraising campaign, 300 Donations in 30 Days. What’s your goal, and what are the plans for deploying the funds?
Gilroy: The goal is to build community awareness by engaging people in this dynamic campaign. Our focus is participation! Below is a list of possible projects we are considering with funds raised with this campaign and beyond:
- Animation & Studio Design Program
- Engineering/Robotics Pathway for RHS & RMS
- Passthrough Art Gallery at RHS
- Instructional Technology across all schools
- Enhancements to the new Makerspaces at the elementary schools
- Upgrade of the backfield at RHS for expanded public use
- Field House renovation
- New scoreboards at the athletic fields
Please stop by Rye Grill and Bar on Wednesday evening, November 9th, between 6:30pm and 8:30pm for a Cocktails & Conversations event to learn more about the Rye Fund for Education.