Signal Mountain's top-performing public schools are one of the most common reasons people cite when explaining their decision to move to the mountain.
While teachers, students and parents are all part of the equation, many of the resources that make Signal Mountain schools excel wouldn't exist without the private funding received through the Mountain Education Foundation.
"When we started exploring Chattanooga as a possible choice for relocating our family from far-off Nevada, we were overwhelmed with kind strangers telling us that Signal Mountain was the best place to raise our family because of the excellent schools," said Mountain Education Foundation Executive Director Hilarie Robison. "What I did not realize until after we made the move was that my financial contributions are necessary to maintain the excellence of our schools."
Nolan and Thrasher elementary schools and Signal Mountain Middle/High School combined request at least $300,000 annually to provide resources not covered by district funding, Robison reported.
That money is used to fund 12 teaching positions across the three schools — art, reading and math intervention, technology, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers — as well as college access counselors and tutors for the learning center at SMMHS. The money also provides discretionary funds to each school for enrichment programs, technology and resources for students and teachers.
To cover those requests, the foundation must raise $120,000 through events, including the Dash & Bash and the Celebration for Education, plus at least $15,000 a month from recurring donors, said Robison.
Currently, monthly donors are only contributing $6,000, she said.
Giving to the foundation declined between 2013 and 2016, partly due to the 2013 expiration of Founders Fund pledges made when the school was being built and equipped, and two grants that expired the following year, said Robison.
Although the foundation has a neutral position on the community debate concerning the formation of an independent school district, a fundraising letter sent to parents in late March stated that the uncertainty surrounding the potential split likely led to donors putting off making pledges to the foundation over the past year.
The foundation anticipates a 20 percent reduction in donations in the coming school year, as less than 1 in 5 families with kids in Signal Mountain public schools are currently giving to the foundation, Robison said. That leaves a funding gap of $9,000 per month in order to continue the level of support MEF now provides, she added.
Since the school principals decide how their schools' funds from the foundation are allocated, Robison said she doesn't know what resources the schools would lose first if those goals aren't reached. Last year the schools requested a 3 percent increase in funds to be used for staffing positions, and in order to do that the foundation had to reduce the schools' discretionary funds, as the foundation's budget was about $75,000 short due to a reduction in community support.
Robison said the foundation doesn't have a suggested amount that families donate, as each family's resources are different, but instead asks that families consider making a monthly commitment to education like they do for Netflix or museum memberships.
"That could be $25 or $250, whatever makes sense for your family's budget," she said.
For more information about the foundation or to make a donation, visit meftoday.org.