The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education is currently evaluating how to most effectively raise private funding to help cover the cost of the myriad construction projects within the school’s Imagine OPRF long-term facilities plan.
During a Feb. 28 regular meeting, board members evaluated the option of establishing a fund at the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation — the 60-year-old local charitable trust.
Antonio Martinez Jr., the foundation’s president and CEO, told board members that creating such a fund is much easier and potentially more cost-effective than having D200 creating a separate nonprofit for the purpose of raising private donations.
Martinez said that any contributions made to an OPRF charitable fund housed at the foundation would be tax-deductible and that donors would easily be able to give in a variety of forms — from cash to securities. Donors would also be able to contribute anonymously.
In December, the D200 board jumpstarted the first phase of Imagine-related construction projects by issuing a request for qualifications for design services. The first round of projects, estimated to cost a total of $32.6 million, includes classroom renovations and facilities enhancements targeted to OPRF’s disabled and special needs students, among other projects.
At the time, the board directed the administration to consider creating a funding plan for subsequent phases of long-term facilities projects by no later than May 2020.
“The board direction included that administration’s funding plan should specify that the district’s objective is to align spending with revenue and that at least 50 percent of the estimated total project cost of $65.4 million will be covered by private donations of at least $10 million,” combined with annual cost of living increases equal to CPI and $20 million from capital funds, according to a Feb. 28 memo by Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams.
During the Feb. 28 meeting, Rhea Yap, the community foundation’s director of fund and donor development, said that the organization has worked with a range of local institutions on philanthropic initiatives, including the Oak Park Public Library, the River Forest Public Library and Oak Park Township.
“We manage more than 200 component funds and each is treated on its own,” Yap said.
Foundation officials said that administrative fees for managing the fund could range from 1.25 percent to 5 percent. Currently, Martinez said, the foundation is managing around $70 million in total assets. A fund for OPRF could easily grow to become the biggest in the community foundation’s portfolio, he said.
If D200 were to go with the foundation, they’d need to raise $10,000 to open the fund. The district would also establish an advisory board related to the fund.
There was a consensus among board members that contracting with the community foundation would be easier than waiting at least six months to file for nonprofit tax-exempt status with the IRS and then hiring additional personnel to handle the day-to-day management and development of the fund.
“I don’t know if there’s truly a downside,” said Pruitt-Adams, referencing the option of utilizing the community foundation.
“The ideal way to do this is with the community foundation,” said board member Craig Iseli, before explaining that the district should nonetheless “look at different options and be sure this is the right way for us.”
“I concur with that,” said board President Jackie Moore.
The board will take final action on a philanthropic fund at a future meeting.