Chatfield School District Invests in Tomorrow

Chatfield businessman Mike Touhy was intrigued by the idea of reducing the public school tax burden for future generations, an idea that first came to him when he heard that the Catholic Church and New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the late 1800s, placed a small amount of money in a fund that, over the course of the last 150 years, became an endowment that funded the New York Catholic School system.

He wondered if something similar could happen in Chatfield.

The opportunity to find out came when the Chatfield Public School system received a substantial bequest from an alumnus who had passed away. Rather than spend it or let it languish, school district administrators wanted to see it grow.

Touhy, who knows many of the Rochester Area Foundation board and committee members, recommended entrusting the funds to the Foundation. “I felt comfortable placing the money in their hands, knowing they have the ability and know-how to manage funds and realize a healthy return over the long haul,” he says.

School Superintendent Ed Harris, Chatfield High School Principal Randy Paulsen, and the board agreed that a high return on investment and the quality of the expertise were the main elements they liked in considering the Rochester Area Foundation. Currently, there are three separate foundations in Chatfield that have funds through the Rochester Area Foundation, which instilled additional confidence among board members.

In the end, the fund they chose is separate from the school district budget and not subject to outside voices telling Chatfield how best to spend its own money. The money stays with the foundation in order to grow. “This was important because staff changes over time may bring different focuses on how to allocate funds,” says Harris, “and the decision was made to keep a set of guidelines for how this money would be spent.”

Overall, the purpose of the fund is to spend the dollars locally and in an efficient manner. The board felt the best way to do that is through a well-run community foundation. To date, there have been no distributions, because the fund is focused on growth.

“Rather than simply having the money sit in a bank account and decrease in the amount, the Rochester Area Foundation can use their volunteer expertise and make the fund grow on its own,” says Harris. In order for the funds to grow more rapidly, however, the Chatfield School District will need to face its biggest challenge—finding a revenue stream. To do that, the district has centralized funding in order to feed the investment. The goal is to grow the dollars through additional fundraising and the Foundation’s wise investment structure.  “We could do fascinating things with a larger fund,” says Touhy.

When funds are ready to be dispersed, they will be spent on local community initiatives, like an early childhood education program or technology advancements to connect with a new generation of learners.  And should the fund grow to be a significant part of the Chatfield School District’s budget, it will most certainly support student education and reduce the tax burden for future generations.