Fundraising groups providing support for schools
LA CA?ADA FLINTRIDGE – Accept a call from Janna Gosselin and there’s a good chance she will ask you for a check. The president of the La Ca ada Flintridge Educational Foundation has more than $1.26 million dollars to raise for her public school district just to match last year’s tally – a portion of which went to hiring more ninth-grade math and English teachers at La Ca ada High School. Volunteering for the foundation, which also controls a $3 million endowment, means not always being popular with your friends and neighbors. “We’re not above begging if need be,” said Gosselin, who heads up a volunteer fundraising army comprised of 50 directors, all ready to accept donations around the well-heeled community. While public school fundraising groups once picked up the tab for a few zoo field trips and classroom supplies, many have evolved into sophisticated nonprofits that routinely fund everything from summer school programs and computer labs to music teachers and class size reductions. Almost every West San Gabriel Valley school district has an educational foundation, bringing in anywhere from $100,000 to more than $2 million in annual cash donations – not including endowments and grants. Organizers agree that their success has a lot to do with their structure. While raising money for the schools, foundations aren’t run by the school district and are usually staffed by parents. They remain free of the distrust and dissatisfaction many parents feel for the education system. “They are seen often as somewhat of an honest broker – a friend of the school district but they are of the community,” said Susan Sweeney, executive director of the California Consortium of Education Foundations. Free from the stigma of government, foundations appear to be more financial accountable to the public, she said. “These are seen as local people solving local problems.” And the shape of the modern foundation is no mistake, said David Menefee-Libey, professor of politics and coordinator of the Public Policy Analysis Program at Pomona College. Foundations began appearing shortly after a series of 1970s court decisions struck down local funding for school districts, which had relied heavily on levying higher and higher property taxes. California was moving toward a state funding model that the government said would equalize the gap between rich and poor districts. Then the passage of Proposition 13 cut property taxes across the state, and district budgets were cut drastically as a result. While some districts tried to raise funds through mandatory fees, for books, lockers, they were soon deemed illegal. Fundraising groups that could supply the district with money, were not. “It was a way for education supporters to get around it and find a loophole by raising money voluntarily,” he said. There are now more than 600 foundations operating throughout California’s 1,000 school districts, according to the California Consortium of Education Foundations. And while these organizations are responsible for giving many schools the extras the state does not provide – some watchdogs have criticized educational foundations as another way to ensure wealthier districts get the best, while the rest are left behind. Foundations in wealthier suburban areas with low student populations, such as La Ca ada and San Marino, are able to raise more than a million dollars each year from mostly resident donations. Economically diverse districts – such as Monrovia, Duarte and San Gabriel – can’t compete on equal footing. The Duarte Educational Foundation raises about $100,000 a year, a sizable contribution but only a fraction of that raised in more affluent cities. It’s members aren’t slacking off. On Friday afternoon DEF president and City Council member Margaret Finlay was preparing to host a fundraising dinner for 60. The foundation is always at local carnivals and parades looking for volunteers and funds. Next weekend they plan on giving out $30,000 during the city’s hero tribute celebration. Each year, DEF also awards a $5,000 college scholarship, gives out $10,000 in teacher grants, and sponsors talent shows and spelling bees. “That’s just some of the many things we do here,” she said, adding that almost all of the money DEF raises comes from within Duarte. Sweeney said she often hears concerns about inequities in foundations. She acknowledges that wealthier cities will always have an edge over those in the middle class. Foundations in urban and poor districts, however, can be more successful that their middle- and upper-class counterparts. Instead of relying on donations from residents, these districts are prime candidates for grants and endowments money from businesses, government agencies and charitable trusts. The Pasadena Unified School District serves a city with both wealthy and poor residents. But its schools are largely filled with minority and low-income students, many of whom under perform their wealthier counterparts in state testing. Districts like these are prime candidates for grant money, she said, and Pasadena Educational Foundation has worked the system to its fullest. PEF executive director Joan Fauvre said applying for grants is one of the biggest jobs her foundation takes on. Last year, PEF raised more than $2 million in donations. But it was able to secure more than $5 million in grants for everything from new science labs at Pasadena High School to new playgrounds at the elementary schools. Without PEF supplied grants, “they would have to go without new playground equipment – or at least have to wait 10 years for it.” Along with the leaders of other foundations, Fauvre said PEF receives requests from the district, schools and teachers, then chooses what they would like to fund among the list. She said PEF has never given money to a project with out district approval. “We have no power over anything the school district does. We aren’t involved in any source of policy,” she said. “We only give money to a program they feel is already needed.” But any organization that supplies millions to a government agency is bound to raise some eyebrows among gadflies, who worry about foundations setting the agenda for the district. In Pasadena, critics have called for newly-elected school board member Bob Harrison to step down from PEF, claiming the agency already holds too much influence over the board. According to Menefee-Libey at Pomona College, it makes sense to keep a close watch on foundations. Some foundations become come very influential over school boards,” he said. “Donors prefer to have some control over how that money is spent.” In La Ca ada, Gosselin describes her foundation’s relationship with the school district as a harmonious one. While she said they do not have the authority to make hiring decisions or implement new programs, “they listen to us,” she said. “They like us giving them the money we have.” [email protected] (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4494160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!