Cornell University will expand its voluntary, unrestricted contributions to the Ithaca City School District from $500,000 to $650,000 annually — representing a 30 percent increase — according to an email from a representative of the University to The Sun. This increase comes as the Make Cornell Pay Coalition — launched by the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America — is urging Cornell to contribute more financially to the greater Ithaca community.
In 2021, the University committed to a five-year agreement of providing $500,000 annually to the district. After conversations between ICSD Superintendent Luvelle Brown and members of the University’s senior leadership, Cornell President Martha Pollack committed to an annual contribution agreement of $650,000 beginning this year through June 2031.
“We are pleased to be able to provide this additional support for the Ithaca City School District’s important operations,” President Pollack said to The Cornell Chronicle. “By increasing and extending assistance to the district, we are helping to mitigate ongoing, significant demands on the district’s budget and helping to ensure a strong school system, which is vital to the larger community, including Cornell.”
Cornell has provided voluntary payments to ICSD since 1975. Other universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Brown University, also provide funding to their surrounding public school districts.
In 2020, the University of Pennsylvania committed to annually contributing $10 million to the School District of Philadelphia for 10 years — representing the largest ever private contribution to the school district. This year, Princeton University pledged to provide more than $14.6 million to Princeton Public Schools over five years, starting with a total 2023 expected contribution of $2.75 million. Brown University founded a permanent endowment with $10 million to offer financial resources to projects that support strong academics for local Providence students.
Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff acknowledged that uplifting ICSD benefits many Cornell community members with children who attend ICSD schools.
“These funds will help to maintain a strong K-12 school system, which is so essential for our community and a vital asset for faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students considering a move to Ithaca to join Cornell,” Kotlikoff told The Chronicle.
Due to the unrestricted designation of the contribution, the district is able to allocate funds in the manner they see fit within all 12 schools in the City of Ithaca, the village of Cayuga Heights and the towns of Ithaca, Caroline and Enfield, The Chronicle stated.
Brown told The Chronicle that he aims to utilize the funds to uplift ICSD employees.
“The senior leadership at Cornell University has been very supportive of our school district’s endeavors,” said ICSD Superintendent Luvelle Brown. “I hope to allocate this most recent generous financial contribution toward our targeted efforts to retain excellent employees across our organization.”
This announcement comes as the Make Cornell Pay Coalition continues to push for greater financial contributions from Cornell to the City of Ithaca as the current memorandum of understanding — which was first put into effect in 1975 — is set to expire in June 2024.
Under the current agreement, Cornell provides about $1.6 million annually to the City of Ithaca through a voluntary Payment in Lieu of Taxes, while Ithaca residents contribute $30.5 million in property taxes annually.
Despite controversy over Cornell’s contributions to the city, school district officials expressed gratitude for the commitment to increase financial support.
“We are extremely thankful for Cornell’s additional contribution to the Ithaca City School District and look forward to continued partnerships and innovation in the years ahead,” Sean Eversley Bradwell, president of the ICSD Board of Education, told The Chronicle.