On the night the Ipswich School Department received its second infusion of cash from the sale of properties on Little Neck, the School Committee announced the first projects — large and small — to be funded by the windfall.
“It was a celebration,” said chairman Barry Hopping, after four major grants totaling $1.1 million and 37 instructional minigrants, for an additional $140,207, were approved by the committee.
At the Aug. 22 meeting, the schools received $806,022, the second of three initial payments agreed to as part of the $31.4 million sale of the Little Neck summer cottage community to property residents.
The August 2012 sale ended a land trust established by settler William Payne in 1660. Payne’s will stated that the rental income from cottages should benefit the school children of Ipswich and that the land should never be sold. But a court ruling allowed the town to sell the land to the cottage owners, who had formed a condominium association. After expenses, the new trust established to benefit the schools had $25.4 million in assets.
Little Neck has 167 cottages, and prior to the land sale, owners rented their land from the Feoffees of the Grammar School in the Town of Ipswich Trust. Because of a dispute between the the trust and the tenants over the amount of rent charged, no payments to the Ipswich schools had been made since 2006.
The payments are now being distributed by the New Feoffees.
The first distribution — of $800,340 — was delivered in September 2012. Since then, two advisory committees have worked with the School Committee to determine the best use of the money, one focused on major grants and one on grants to individual educators.
The four major grants – called Payne Grants – were unanimously approved by the committee. They included $912,975 for districtwide technology infrastructure; two professional development initiatives totaling $167,716; and $47,500 toward the Winthrop School playground renovation.
Scheduled for installation beginning on Sept. 10 using all-volunteer labor, the playground is an ambitious effort that was funded largely by private and corporate donations.
“It’s just a work of art,” Hopping said of the playground. “The reason the committee was so strong in its support for that is because it’s truly a community effort. There’s a strong educational component of the playground. There are garden spots for each grade level, there are musical instruments in certain areas, [and] they’ve developed two amphitheaters that will serve as outside classrooms.
“There’s even a clam shack, which is almost dead-center in the project and is in keeping with what Ipswich is most noted for.”
The instructional minigrants were given across the district, for initiatives that include advanced placement government or history training, enrichment for struggling readers, classroom library expansion, and online French. Pending school permission, one will be used to develop a garden at the high school.
There may be more minigrants on the way, Hopping said. Some of the 60 proposals submitted required changes in stipend amounts, or had technical requests, scheduling, or permission issues, and may be approved after they are revised. Applicants will have until Oct. 1 to resubmit.
“The feoffee funds are a real game-changer for the Ipswich public schools,” Superintendent William Hart said, noting that the minigrant initiative “allows teachers to have a fair amount of autonomy on how to bring innovation to their classrooms. As a district, it’s going to create the technology infrastructure that will allow us a springboard to embed technology’’ in kindergarten through Grade 12.
The three initial payments come from the $2.4 million “use and occupancy” funds received as part of the Little Neck sale. Those distributions are specified in the agreement for immediate use by the schools.
“All of the feoffees are pleased to be able to distribute money to the schools and feel this is really a positive moment for Ipswich,” said Tracy Filosa, who represented the New Feoffees at the meeting along with Seth Ward. “I think everyone is pleased that this is happening. We feel good that William Payne’s original intent in the 1660s is being continued, and that the resources are still dedicated to the school children of Ipswich.”
After the final initial payout next year, the schools are slated to receive annual payments that officials estimate will be in the $400,000 to $600,000 range, depending on interest rates and a distribution policy that Filosa describes as conservative.
“We’re trying to make sure we set aside money for future generations and account for inflation before we do any distribution,” she said. “We’re all very focused on preserving the real value of the purpose of the trust.”