Joe Sajevic knew serving as the executive director for the Fremont Public Schools Foundation was the right place for him when he took the position in 2016.
Sajevic replaced David Pinkall, who founded the foundation, as executive director five years ago. Prior, Sajevic supervised student teachers at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Earlier in his career, Sajevic served as the principal of Fremont High School from 2001 to 2012.
Those strong ties to the school district played a large part in his decision to accept the executive director position.
“My background with FPS really influenced me,” Sajevic said. “I really care about the system and the kids.”
Now, Sajevic will hand over the reins to Kevin Eairleywine, executive director of human resources and elementary operations, as he heads into retirement following a career in education spanning two decades.
For Sajevic, the position was a natural progression. As an educator, he had spent years developing relationships. With that skill already in hand, Sajevic said the only hurdle he had to overcome was learning how to ask for money.
“The asking for money was different because I’d never done that before,” he said. “But again, if it was a cause I believed in, I wasn’t afraid to go to anybody because it was something that I thought needed to be done.”
That ambition helped Sajevic and his board accomplish several projects during his five-year tenure.
Sajevic facilitated the formation of the Dual Credit Financial Assistance fund. The fund supported low-income students with tuition and book costs. Since the 2017-18 school year, the program has impacted about 250 students.
“The idea behind it is, if we can get those kids to be successful in one, two or three dual-credit classes, those kids might not be afraid to go ahead and try college courses down the line,” he said.
Sajevic also facilitated a 2018 fundraising campaign geared toward purchasing Chromebooks for students in fifth through 12th grade. That campaign raised more than $180,000 to assist FPS with the purchase.
He said most of the praise for the fundraising work behind that project should be directed toward the foundation’s board of directors.
“We kind of divided up our board of directors and said, ‘all right, you need to call on these five or six people,’ which they did and that really increased our donor reach,” he said.
Because of the initiative to bring Chromebooks into the classroom, Sajevic said the district was well prepared for remote learning during the 2019 floods and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, Sajevic was involved in raising more than $100,000 to upgrade the Emergency Radio Communications system for FPS, Trinity Lutheran and Archbishop Bergan Catholic Schools.
The drive to complete these projects is fueled by an “outstanding” donor base in Fremont, Sajevic said.
While he initially worried that donors would try to run out the back door whenever he visits, Sajevic said the foundation’s donors are always willing to consider vital projects to the school district.
“Our donor base is very strong, especially if it’s for a cause like the Chromebook or dual-credit situation,” he said. “Those are all desperately needed and the school district doesn’t have the money to pay for it. So, they’re really willing to step up to the plate and help.”
Outside of the foundation’s marquee projects, Sajevic said there is plenty of work and fundraising done behind the scenes just to keep the office’s lights on.
It costs anywhere between $40,000 and $50,000 each year to keep the foundation running. Additionally, the foundation also serves as a flow-through account to help fund projects and grants that can’t go through FPS directly.
Those transactions range from a $5,000 grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation to a $60,000 anonymous donation that funded the purchase of top-of-the-line helmets for the Fremont High School football team that helped better detect potential concussions.
Donating that money directly to FPS would limit the amount of state aid the district receives each year, according to Sajevic. That's why funding the foundation annually remains vital.
“So, the amount of money invested [toward] the office per year, around $50,000, is a really good investment because it allows for all those flow-through funds to go to the right place without affecting state aid.”
Eairleywine will inherit a strong donor base and foundation to expand on in the coming years, Sajevic said.
“That alumni base is going to be the key to an avenue to another donor base that I would hope Kevin can nurture and expand, because I think that’s the future of the foundation,” he said. “He’s got a good foothold in the Fremont community as well as the alumni community. I think he’ll do a great job.”
Eairleywine said Sajevic has greatly expanded on the foundation since he took the executive director position in 2016.
“He’s done a great job leading a lot of those fundraising efforts,” he said. “He’s going to be greatly missed. From where I stand, my hope is to continue on what my predecessors have built and just keep moving the foundation forward and hopefully make it even stronger.”
Looking back, Sajevic said he is proud of the work the foundation has done over the last five years and is excited to see what Eairleywine can do in the future.