A $100,000 endowment for the Ithaca Public Education Initiative was not only an act of generous philanthropy, but also a real-life illustration of things to come for many public-sector and not-for-profit enterprises.

Last week, the Tompkins Trust Company announced it was creating the endowment in honor of Charles E. Treman Jr., past president and chairman of the well-known local bank. This new endowment will support the Ithaca Public Education Initiative's teacher grant program.

The initiative organization was created as a result of the Ithaca City School District's 1996 strategic plan, which correctly noted that the schools needed to create new revenue streams other than the property tax base and state aid.

Connecting local resources with classrooms

The mission of the education initiative is to "connect community resources with our classrooms and our schools," said Terry Byrnes, initiative president. In other words, harness the generosity of community-minded individuals and businesses to fund projects that will foster educational excellence.

For example, the initiative's teacher grant program -- which the Trust Company's new endowment will help fund -- supports special projects that are developed by Ithaca's teachers to enrich the learning process. Teachers can apply for such grants.

To date, the initiative has awarded 96 grants totaling $70,000 since 1997. That money is all from the initiative's philanthropic efforts rather than from the property tax base. Those grants provided money for a project at Enfield Elementary School that taught fifth graders about sustainable agriculture, a photo essay project at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School, and a joint project between Ithaca High School and Ithaca College to educate students about accessing information in news and advertising media.

Revenue outside the property tax stream

The key issue here is that none of those projects would have been possible through the normal tax-dependent channels. As the state faces another budget shortfall and the $5 billion settlement to the Campaign For Fiscal Equity suit looms over state education dollars, the prospect of bountiful state aid in the foreseeable future is a fantasy at best.

Rather than wringing their hands and reciting sob stories to the school board, members of the Ithaca Public Education Initiative -- funded by generous individuals and businesses such as the Trust Company -- took matters into their own hands and created a new, hopefully ongoing, revenue stream to ensure educational extras.

The success of the initiative should be a lesson to other public sector entities and non-profit enterprises that are experiencing the painful reality that the flow of tax-based dollars is subsiding.