ORPSEF The Foundation History
In January 2000, with her vision and under her guidance, Barbara Phelps, member of the Oak Ridge Board of Education, invited a group of Oak Ridge citizens to meet to discuss establishing an education foundation to support the Oak Ridge public school system. This Founding Committee, chaired by Barbara Phelps, included members: Ron Bridgeman, Editor, The Oak Ridger; Jim McCarten, attorney; Herman Postma, retired director, ORNL; Dana Thompson, KMDS Tech Association; Dianne Wooten, retired ORNL; Tracy Larabee, accountant and Oak Ridge Board of Education Member; Chris Lee, Director of Human Services, Oak Ridge Schools; Randy McCoy, Superintendent, Oak Ridge Schools; and Craig Rigell, Principal, Willowbrook Elementary School. Ron Bridgeman was later replaced by Karen Bridgeman, partner, Bridgeman and Brookshire. Jerry Lenn from the Guidance Department at Oak Ridge Schools, was later added to the original committee.
The Founding Committee worked to develop a mission, set goals, and write the charter and by-laws for the Foundation. In the summer of 2000, the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation was formally established as a non-profit organization, separate from the school system, but existing to ensure its continued excellence. The Founding Committee elected nine community members to serve as the first Board of Directors of the Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation. Those elected were: Jim McCarten, Tom Clary, Dana Thompson, Janet Coxon, Gordon Fee, Robert Poe, Steve Buckley, and Ginny Basseen. Non-voting members were Barbara Phelps, representing the School Board; Randy McCoy, representing the School System; and Jerry Lenn, representing Oak Ridge Schools staff.
While Barbara Phelps soon resigned her position to move with her family to London, the Foundation continues to support her vision and goals in the community. At the election of the Board of Directors, Barbara Phelps said, "Those of us working toward the development of this new foundation firmly believe in keeping our public schools in Oak Ridge progressive. This Education Foundation helps our community make better use of private funds to continue to support excellence as well as to meet new challenges."
One of the Education Foundation’s most notable contributions has been the 2005-2008 campaign to raise funds to help support the high school renovation project. Over $8 million was raised from the community – individuals, families, businesses and government contractors – to support the $61 million high school rebuilding project. The Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation has contributed $4,375,455 to date, more than half of the $8 million pledged to the city for the Oak Ridge High School renovation and rebuilding. The Education Foundation’s contribution is helping the city to repay an estimated $8 million that the high school project received from Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, a federal program of taxable bonds issued by the Tennessee School Bond Authority. The contribution of the Education Foundation to the high school project was made possible by the unprecedented support of the community for this initiative. Completing the 21st century educational facility would have been difficult without the Education Foundation’s contribution. According to Keys Fillauer, chairman of the Oak Ridge Board of Education, "The help the Foundation gave with moving forward on the QZA bonds put us over the hump and allowed us to go ahead with this project. From a financial aspect, it was extremely valuable. The support we received was instrumental in making this happen." The Education Foundation will continue making payments to the city through 2020, completing payments for the QZA bonds.
From 2005-2017, the Education Foundation has raised and contributed over $900,000 in grants for teachers in all schools and at all grades. This is an on-going initiative by the Education Foundation.