Mary Lyon Foundation smart, effective in its Mohawk mission

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Mohawk Trail regional school system may have its financial challenges these days, but it also has a guardian angel of sorts — Mary Lyon Education Foundation.

Over the past 22 years, the nonprofit school booster group has raised $677,302 for major capital projects at West County schools. But more importantly, the foundation’s leaders were clever enough to find ways to leverage that already impressive sum into $2.4 million: with a 72 percent match from the state school building assistance agency.

All the people involved with the foundation over the years deserve lots of credit and gratitude from taxpayers from the Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s member towns. For years the foundation used many methods to raise money that would supplement school budgets by funding teacher wish lists. But in the 1990s, when most of the West County schools underwent renovations and expansions, or built a new school in Heath’s case, the foundation outdid itself.

Two of the foundation’s leaders, co-directors Sue Samoriski and Doug Wilkins of Heath, Mohawk Regional’s first technology director, figured out that the state Massachusetts School Building Assistance Bureau would not only pay a 72 percent match for school construction, like the Heath Elementary School, but would also provide a nearly three-to-one-match for school equipment in those new or renovated structures. The state matched every $28 raised locally with another $72.

“Our towns did not include equipment in the project, as they did not feel able to pay the additional cost,” explained Marion Taylor of Shelburne, a longtime Mohawk School Committee chairwoman and past president of the Mary Lyon Foundation. But that changed with the foundation’s fundraising, which brought in $76,000 for equipment, which was then multiplied by the state match.

Fundraising for equipment was later done for other schools where projects were approved by the School Building Assistance Bureau. These included renovations at Colrain Central, Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, the new Sanderson Academy, and the expansion of the Mohawk Trail Regional School.

According to Taylor, Mary Lyon raised $601,302 for equipment from Mohawk, Colrain, Buckland-Shelburne and Sanderson communities.

The money raised, with state matching funds, paid for a new track for Mohawk, an expanded gymnasium, computer labs, school library collections, a TV studio at Mohawk, playground equipment, science equipment and other items.

Little or none of this would have happened without the Mary Lyon Foundation.

In Colrain, according to Samoriski, a letter was sent to every resident requesting donations, and one resident donated a parcel of land. The foundation sold the land for $20,000, which leveraged nearly $60,000 more from the state.

The foundation’s move was innovative as well as effective, so much so that state building officials, while approving the unconventional strategy, perhaps only half-jokingly suggested the foundation’s leaders “don’t tell anybody.”

School Committee member Suzanne Crawford of Hawley has rightly praised Mary Lyon as an organization “that enables us all to think about what we want for our schools” and not just what the taxpayers could afford — and found a way to do it.