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The Erwin C. Bauer Trust has apparently changed the amount and timing of grants paid after a 2017 restructuring, leaving some organizations that have benefited from its charitable giving scratching their heads.
The Erwin Bauer Charitable Trust was established in 1997 with the purpose of supporting Madison residents and organizations. According to tax documents, the trust paid out a total of $78,545 to Madison causes in 2016, the most recent year for which information was available.
The trust has funded environmental education programs in Madison for almost 20 years, offering opportunities for both adults and school-age children to learn about the natural resources in the town. The people who oversee these organizations were caught off guard this past June when they found the amount of their grant almost cut in half.
“We haven’t heard from them even to re-apply,” said Madison Beach & Recreation Department Recreation Supervisor Carrie Gazda, who oversees the Bauer Park programs. “It’s kind of a strange situation.”
Wells Fargo Bank began serving as the trustee for the Erwin Bauer estate two years ago, according to Vince Scanlon, a spokesperson for the bank. Scanlon said the bank “exercises its discretion to make the final determination as to which charitable organizations will receive funds and the amount of the funds.” An advisory board of seven Madison residents meets annually to offer recommendations
First Selectman Tom Banisch (R) is a member of the board. He said that board members were told that the trust hadn’t been “working the way it was supposed to be” before the restructuring.
Banisch said it was his understanding that there had been a reduction in the amount of money the trust had made from years past, and that might explain some of the reduced grants. He said that every organization that had requested funding had received some, though not always the amount requested.”
Asked about a reduction in grant money, Scanlon said the trust was required to distribute a certain amount each year. He said that trustees like the bank can choose to dip in to the principal of the trust, but would consider “long term goals” when doing so.
This year’s reduced grant essentially covered the programs through the end of summer. Now, teachers and organizers are scrambling, trying to find ways to keep the popular activities going.
“The difficulty now,” said Julie Ainsworth, who has been teaching classes through the program since 2004, “is that we want to do these programs with the schools for the rest of 2019, this fall, and there’s no funds.”
The program ran more than 150 classes for students grades K-4 last school year, Ainsworth said, overseen by about eight teachers who work with the schools to integrate their lessons with school curriculum. Classes vary in size, scope, and location, with some bringing kids to nature spots around town, and others allowing younger students to see or experiment with nature inside the classroom.
“Kids are naturally curious,” said Ainsworth, “so we’re just trying to help foster their curiosity about the natural world.”
Classes build practical knowledge about nature in Madison, Ainsworth said, and the roles that various creatures or elements play in keeping an ecosystem healthy. She used the example of earthworms: Kindergartners are brought worms in their classes to observe and learn about, and then in 2nd grade, they travel to the Bauer Park gardens and are able to explore firsthand how insects and arthropods help keep soil healthy.
Until now, the school district has only had to pay for transportation to the various locations, as the trust covered all materials, salaries, and project costs. Ainsworth pointed out that Jeffery Elementary School is walking distance from Bauer Park, which made those programs even easier and less expensive to put together.
Ainsworth said she is hoping the schools will step in. She said that while it currently seemed unlikely for the programs to be incorporated as a line-item on the budget, it was possible that PTO funds or other contributions from parents might fund some or all of the programs for the fall.
“I think it’s essential for kids to be aware of the natural resources in their town,” said Ainsworth. “As important as it is for kids to learn about rainforests and things in other parts of the world...it is equally important to appreciate the resources we have here in town.”
The school programs at risk from the grant cuts are somewhat separate from programs available to the general public, which include nature walks, outdoor sketching classes, and birdwatching. Gazda said those programs will continue as long as people are willing to pay for them.
Fees for these public programs will increase due to the lack of grant money, Gazda said.
“They have to stand on their own, or they get canceled if they don’t get enough registrations,” she said.
Banisch said that there had been some talk of exploring new funding sources for the programs, though nothing was definite.
Gazda said some programs had already been canceled due to people waiting until the last minute to sign up.
For more information on the programs, visit www.madisonct.org and search “Bauer Programs” or call 203-245-5623.
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