Foundation’s stock plunge halts millions in tech grants

Plans for a much anticipated professional-technical academy that would have involved 14 public school districts in north central Idaho have vanished in the wake of a financial setback for the project’s funder.

Mere hours after the superintendents of the school districts met in Lewiston on Jan. 10 to sign a $10 million grant proposal that would have been submitted to the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, they were notified the funding had been pulled.

The academy would have prepared students throughout the state for business and technical careers.

High school juniors and seniors would have been able to earn high school and college credits while training for high-tech positions, and instructors would have been hired from the private sector at a higher rate than regular classroom teachers.

Chris Latter, communications manager for the Boise-based Albertson Foundation, said the organization would not be able to fund the professional-technical high school request–as well as many other new grants–this year because of plunging stock prices.

Albertson’s Inc. stock prices dropped more than 50 percent last year after the company’s $8.3 billion purchase of American Stores. Each year, 5 percent of the corporation’s asset base is used to fund grants.

As a result of the stock drop, the foundation’s endowment plunged from $1.2 billion in 1998 to less than $600 million at the end of December.

“All of our current and multi-year signed commitments will be kept, but we won’t be able to go on and accept [new] proposals at this point,” Latter said.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has been a huge benefactor to Idaho schools, particularly in the area of technology. Over the past two years, the foundation has given the state’s schools $56.5 million for new computers, teacher training, reading materials, and other education programs.

Superintendents reacted to the news with dismay.

“I’ve had a hard time not crying all day,” said Prairie School Superintendent Stan R. Kress, one of the organizers of the consortium. “With what I know right now, I’m extremely disappointed, but people can’t give you money they don’t have.”

Potlatch Superintendent Donald E. Armstrong had worked on the proposal for the professional-technical academy for more than a year.

“I was shocked…[but] when you stop and think about how much money the Albertson Foundation has given to the schools in Idaho, the fact that they’re going through a little bit of a downer here, we still ought to thank them,” he said.

Latter emphasized the foundation will continue to fund all grants that already have been awarded, according to the agreed-upon terms. She said the only grant money being withdrawn is money that had not yet been awarded to any group in particular.

“It’s kind of sad because the day we were notified was the day the superintendents had gathered to sign off on the proposal,” Bill Olfert told the Lewiston Morning Tribune. Olfert was hired by the 14 districts to spearhead the grant writing process.

Despite public support for the concept, Armstrong said it is unlikely an academy could be funded without the Albertson money.

“This requires such a blast of money to buy the equipment and get the people on board that are certified in industry standards…my guess is it’s almost impossible at this point to move on and do something else,” he said.

In addition to the academy proposal, the Albertson Foundation will be unable to fund a summer technology program for hundreds of Idaho instructors.

More than 800 Idaho teachers attended a summer program last year for advanced training on using technology in classroom instruction. They attended classes in 15 state-of-the-art computer labs built at schools around the state.

The foundation will continue to support the teachers who already have received training, but it will not accept new applications this summer, Latter said.


The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation

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