By Bera Dunau STAFF WRITER
---- — Milford has found an innovative way to fund educational programs in an age of decreased state aid and tight school budgets.
The Milford Central School Education Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) established in January of 2009. The purpose of MEF is to build Milford’s future by supporting scholarship, entrepreneurship and philanthropy, often in conjunction with programs and efforts at the school.
Donations made to MEF are tax deductible. Private schools and colleges utilize their 501(c)(3) status to help in their fundraising efforts, which has inspired groups of people to set them up for the benefit of their public schools.
“It’s become a recent phenomena of public schools to utilize the 501(c)(3),” said Susan Bennis Ward, who chairs the Milford Board of Education and is the President of MEF.
Ward says that discussions on creating MEF began in the early 2000’s on the board of education.
MEF has a board of directors of nine people. Two of these directors are students, who are appointed by the board. MEF can also have up to two student representatives, who sit in on board meetings but do not vote.
“The students actually have the capability … of having a voice,” said Ward.
There are no stipulations as to who fills the seven remaining board of directors slots, whose present occupants include parents, community members and members of the board of education. Board members come up for reappointment on a revolving basis. The board of directors consists entirely of volunteers.
“Many of our founding members are still here now,” said Ward.
MEF has provided the funding for a number of different programs at the school.
These include paying for 20 middle school students to attend a science fair in Syracuse, funding senior mural plates and pottery classes, providing the dollars for an open mic night, paying for students to attend an organic farming conference and funding for a school wide mentoring program. Recently, MEF provided money for a new electronic scoreboard on the school’s basketball court.
“We encourage teachers to come to us with things … they’re going to have to cut,” said Ward.
The next big project will be helping to fund $6,000 in laboratory investigative equipment, at the request of Milford’s Science Department. This equipment will be funded in partnership with Career Opportunities in Rural Education, C.O.R.E.
MEF provides philanthropic and entrepreneurial grants to both students and non-students. They also administer the Richard Bates Math and Science Memorial Scholarship, which honors Richard Bates, who taught science at Milford from 1944 to 1979. The $1,000 scholarship is given to a student who is planning on pursuing higher education in math or science and has demonstrated excellent moral character.
M.I.S.S.I.O.N. (Meaningful Investments for Student Solutions in Our Neighborhood) a student run philanthropy group, is another part of MEF.
MEF raises money through a variety means.
The organization puts on a number of events, including the MEF Golf Tournament, the Go Green Fashion Show and the Milford March Madness basketball tournament. MEF also has an annual fundraising campaign.
“Every dollar contributed to MEF goes to the bottom line,” Ward said.
In addition to the general public, staff and faculty are asked to donate, with MEF getting 100 percent participation from them in some years.
“Granting organizations look very favorably when you have 100 percent of the people whom you are serving supporting you,” said Ward, noting another way in which MEF gets funding.
She also praised the generosity of MEF donors, and the quality of the community as a whole.
“If you’ve got people understanding the why of education, you can go forward,” said Ward. “Milford is a big family.”
The efforts of Milford Educators, and those that support them, appear to be paying off. U.S. News & World Report recognized Milford this year as one of the 2013 Best High Schools.