Schools look outside the book for funding solutions


Scripps Howard News Service

As schools across the country wrangle with crippling budget crunches, many are getting creative, often employing the same fundraising strategies private schools have used for years.

Some are going to four-day school weeks, figuring they’ll save a couple of bucks on transportation and heat on that fifth day. Others are launching Web sites soliciting donations, and many are setting up foundations.

In Scotts Valley Unified School District in Scotts Valley, Calif., the district pared all the fat they could out of their budget when the bottom fell out of the local technology market. A state budget crisis exacerbated the situation.

Desperate to save programs and teacher jobs, a group of parents fired off a letter to district families in early December asking for donations or school supplies. By mid-January, they’d gotten $25,000, “tons of supplies,” and more pledges expected to roll in.

Half of the money raised will be spent this year. The other half will be stockpiled for future years, parent Marshall Wolf said.

“We want to build up a fund so the district isn’t constantly held hostage by the whims of the state,” he said.

At St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colo., an accounting error put the district in a $13.8 million deficit. Teachers and administrators saw salary cuts. Programs also faced cuts.

Concerned about the future of the schools, Longmont United Hospital rallied local business and community leaders to help. The area newspaper launched a Web site to solicit donations. They received more than $44,000 in cash donations. A local car dealership offered to loan cars for the driver’s education program.

“What we’re trying to do is match businesses with more resources for those schools that have bigger needs,” said Dave Palmisano, a spokesman for the program and a hospital employee.

Even students have pitched in., a Web site run by a trio of high school students, solicits donations and sells T-shirts featuring a black logo with a red arrow pointing down.

Elsewhere, schools in states including New Mexico and Oregon have cut a fifth day out of their schedules. Schools in Rhode Island and Oregon have held telethons to raise funds. And there’s a variety of long-standing fundraising programs — selling cookies, calendars, wrapping paper.

National Parent Teacher Association President Shirley Igo said she’s seen more schools asking private groups to fund teacher salaries or help fund facility repairs.

“I talked to a man yesterday whose group built a wing of a school with parent donations,” she said. “This is not an uncommon situation today.”

But not all parents can afford to help out with such ambitious projects. The scenario creates greater disparity between schools with poor parents and schools with rich ones, she said.

“These are things that should be funded through tax dollars,” she said. “We believe that the quality of education for every child should not be determined by where the child is or how much parents can raise to support the child’s education.”

Other districts are trying to cut rather than fund-raise.

Wesley Lane, interim superintendent at Animas Public Schools in Animas, N.M., said the school district went to a four-day week in the mid-90s. The lost day saves money on transportation and fuel. Many small districts in New Mexico did so earlier during the energy crisis.

But the district is doing other things to save money. They went from 11-man football to six-man football. They discontinued their music program. They made the full-time nursing position a part-time job.

“We’ve cut out a lot of programs,” he said. “And we are still doing that.”

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