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School districts rely on foundations to keep programs afloat

By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The Eureka Schools Foundation recently hosted its third annual Art Auction and Music Exhibition at Bayside Church, which organizers say raised about $35,000.

For the past 20 years, the foundation has supplemented the Eureka Union School District’s budget. But what was an act of foresight on the part of the foundation’s founders has become a necessity because of California’s state budget crisis.

Local school districts are increasingly relying on foundations to fund everything from athletics to teacher training.

“We need private funding to maintain (enrichment) programs and our exceptionally high API scores,” said Tiffany Jones, who serves on the Eureka foundation’s operating committee. “Rallying around the great public education we have around here takes tremendous outreach efforts.”

Last year, the nonprofit foundation gave $554,000 to the district, used to maintain computer technology, music, choir, junior high athletics, Spanish classes and summer training institutes for teachers. School libraries were also spared the chopping block with the help of foundation money.

“If you take ESF out of the picture, you lose almost all sports, classroom technology and libraries,” Jones said.

School districts are now preparing their 2012-13 budgets, which means drafting a spending plan and making adjustments depending on what happens with the state budget.

Gov. Jerry Brown has also proposed a ballot initiative that would raise billions of dollars for schools by temporarily increasing the sales tax by a half-cent and hiking the income tax on individuals with an annual income of $250,000 or more.

As districts wrestle with what some consider a dysfunctional budget process and wait for the outcome of November’s election, local foundations continue to focus on collecting as much money as possible.

EUSD faces budget deficit

The Eureka Schools Foundation is considered a model program for private funding. Jones says her organization regularly receives requests from other groups asking for guidance on starting a foundation.

“It’s a model that works regardless of the size or demographics of your district,” Jones said.

Roseville City School District also has a foundation. The two other local districts — Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District and Roseville Joint Union High School District — do not have foundations, although they do have active parent-teacher groups and booster clubs.

The Eureka district’s Parent Teacher Clubs support special activities, projects and materials that directly serve their particular school site. They support “things as opposed to people,” said the district’s Chief Business Officer Melody Glaspey. The foundation, on the other hand, serves students on a district-wide basis, by providing enrichment programs for kids and staff development for teachers.

“ESF supports ‘people’ or staffing for programs,” Glaspey said. “Staff development in the form of summer institutes for our teachers has supported our successful efforts at offering the college and career readiness and project-based learning through our own Challenge 21 program.”

Two years ago, the district asked the foundation to completely fund several enrichment programs.

Since 2009, the district has cut $4.4 million from its budget — by closing a school, laying off teachers, offering early retirement incentives, losing instructional aides, reducing supplies and increasing class sizes.

In 2012, the district may have a shortage of about $165,000 in its projected $25 million budget (before cuts), Glaspey said, which could put supported programs at risk. The district estimates it will deficit spend at a level of $3.8 million if voters fail to pass the governor’s proposed tax initiatives.

Categorical program funds also are threatened as a result of a proposed state reform that would eliminate these funds and provide money to districts based on population of English Language Learners and economically disadvantaged students.

Eureka Schools Foundation President Warren Holt said his organization now aims to show the larger community — not just parents with children in school — the importance of maintaining quality schools.

The foundation’s annual giving campaign kicked off Feb. 3 and runs through March 16. The group accepts donations year-round. Last year, the campaign raised $277,000. The average household contribution was $194.

Grub Crawl sells out

The Roseville City School District Foundation hosted its inaugural Grub Crawl at Il Fornaio and Ruth's Chris Steak House in the Westfield Galleria mall Sunday. Co-president Megan MacPherson said the event sold out with 160 people in attendance. She estimates the event raised about $2,500.

Linda Grgurich, a fourth grade teacher at Blue Oaks Elementary School, attended Sunday’s event.

“We can’t possibly buy the materials, and the 20th-century things out there, without the foundation supporting us,” Grgurich said.

Her district projects it will have to cut spending between $4 million and $5 million over the next two years, said Assistant Superintendent of Businesses Services Dennis Snelling. A failure of the governor’s ballot measure would result in an additional $3.5 million reduction. The district’s projected budget for the 2012-13 school year is $69 million before cuts.

The RCSD Foundation contributed $45,000 to the district last year. The organization, founded in 2005, raises money for teacher grants, technology, and arts and sciences for the district’s 17 elementary and middle schools.

Jody Piecznski also attended the Grub Crawl.

“My husband happens to be a teacher so we know about being pink-slipped and losing jobs … We have to support our teachers, our community, our education for our children and for future children,” she said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.