Monday, May 9, 2011

Educators and Entertainers can give a vocie to Schools in low-income Areas too!

Los Gatos Education Foundation Gives Voice to Schools

The parent-led group has raised $7.7 million for public K-8 schools in its 29-year history.
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Founded in 1982, the parents behind the Los Gatos Education Foundation (LGEF) were content to raise less than $200,000 every year.
Then in 2003, the state threatened to cut funding for more than a dozen teaching positions, and the parents of LGEF banded together to launch the “Save Our Schools” campaign.
They plastered banners around town, sent letters to local families to urge them to give $600 each, and recruited parents and teachers to participate in a phonathon to hustle even more dollars.
They aimed to raise $1 million in six weeks; they easily surpassed their goal in just four weeks and saved the teachers’ jobs.
“They realized, ‘Wow, this community can do more than we ever thought,” Dan Snyder said of this major turning point in the organization’s history. He joined the 17-member board nearly two years ago and now is president.
One of more than 600 local educational foundations in California, the LGEF provides a link between the tight-knit community of Los Gatos and the schools in the Los Gatos Union School District (LGUSD): Blossom Hill, Daves Avenue, Lexington and Van Meter elementary schools and Raymond J. Fisher Middle School. Since its formation, the parent-run nonprofit organization has contributed more than $7.7 million to supplement the district’s limited budget.
LGUSD receives no general-purpose funding from the state. Instead, 65 percent of its $26 million general fund is derived from local property taxes. A significant 25 percent of district funds comes from local sources, including the $290 parcel tax that voters approved again last June, the LGEF and home and school clubs that support individual schools.
Because the district relies so heavily on property tax revenues, the recent decline in property values has led to fewer tax revenues at a time when student enrollment is increasing. The student population of 3,055 is expected to rise to 3,478 students by 2016.
These are just some of the challenges that the district faces, and the foundation is there to help.
“LGEF’s ongoing contribution to our goals of creating and maintaining a best-in-class education experience for our children has been invaluable,” said Doug Halbert, member of the school board. “We are very fortunate in our district to have the leadership and support of LGEF.”
Basically, the district's staff and trustees identify funding opportunities, and the educational foundation makes grants to support its programs that would've otherwise gone unfunded. Most of the money LGEF raises supports science, music, art and technology programs throughout the district. The foundation also funds two music teachers and a technology mentor who trains teachers in how to incorporate technology into the curriculum.
“I am very happy to see art and music in our schools, because, unfortunately, it seems to be the first thing that gets put on the chopping block,” said Marybeth MacLean, a former foundation board member from 2005-09 who continues to volunteer. “Especially in these elementary grades, enabling children to be expressive through the arts is a crucial part of their education and not an ancillary part. I am very proud that our parents step up to fund these programs.”
Despite the tough economy, people in Los Gatos manage to keep giving. The foundation’s goal this year is to raise $750,000, said Tina Murray, director of annual giving. So far, the organization has raised 93 percent of its goal, she said.
LGEF also raises funds by asking parents to make a $600 one-year pledge for one student and a $900 pledge for two or more students in the district. It also hosts parties such as Fall Fashion Palooza and Denim and Diamonds Casino Night, which was April 29 at the Opera House in downtown Los Gatos.
Not only do parents support the foundation, but local businesses and community members at large also step up, because they see quality schools as the key to a thriving community and high property values. The latter is why residents in the La Rinconada area, which is in the town of Los Gatos but in Campbell Union School District, want to switch to LGUSD, explained Snyder. It would increase their property values by 20 percent.
But some parents might wonder why they are being approached to support public education—something taxes usually provide.
“I use the analogy that the state of California provides state parks that we all love and enjoy,” MacLean said. “And they are public, and yet when you go visit a park, you stop at a kiosk staffed by a ranger and you pay your $9 or $10 to enter the park. The money will go to maintenance and repairs. [Likewise,] we all have access to public schools, and we carry the burden to keep the quality of the schools at the quality we desire.”
Asking for money is never easy, but MacLean reminds herself that it’s for the children.
“We’re the front people who do the ask,” she said. “The heroes are the people who write the checks.”
How are you helping support local K-8 public schools?

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