As school districts across California face steep cuts in state funding, some supporters of public education are trying to fill the void by raising money. In the case of the San Carlos Education Foundation, the results have been impressive.
The foundation, which raised $1.7 million during the 2009-10 fiscal year, was honored Monday night by San Carlos Mayor Randy Royce and the City Council with a proclamation. Money raised by the foundation over the years has paid for San Carlos elementary students to have continued access to academic and extracurricular programs that otherwise would have been sacrificed to balance the district’s budget.
The $1.7 million raised is equal to “about 7 percent of the [district’s] entire budget,” Royce said, reading from the proclamation. “Without parents and community support for public education in San Carlos, the elementary schools would have to consider cutting or eliminating — and it doesn’t say this, but they would probably have to cut all of this — music, literacy, physical education, libraries, technology, fine arts, science, vice principals and counseling.”
In an interview, San Carlos schools Superintendent Craig Baker said the financial support has had a huge impact. “We continue to provide what a lot of other schools consider to be secondary, but for us are primary, which is music, P.E., art and technology, in addition to regular classes,” he said. “Most districts have had to cut some or all of those over the years.”
Unless the state can improve its fiscal health, more painful cuts are likely, he said.
“Just over the last year, the state reduced our funding by about $300,000 beyond what they cut the year before,” Baker said. “There’s been a gradual decline in state funding, and the foundation has been critical in filling that gap. Like other districts around us, we’ve been deficit spending just to balance our budget every year, and our reserves are gradually disappearing.”
Sallie Gasparini, co-president of the San Carlos Education Foundation, said the organization was founded in 1982 but began raising large sums of money only recently. It was bringing in just “a few thousand dollars” in 2001 and 2002, she said.
“Our parent community is getting very savvy,” Gasparini said. “The mindset’s changing from ‘public education is free’ to understanding the state doesn’t adequately fund education, to parents and community realizing they need to step in.”
Gasparini said the foundation’s successful fundraising in recent years –including roughly $1.3 million last year, according to Baker – was not the result of only a few wealthy contributors, but a community outpouring of support.
“Last year, over 50 percent of families in the district contributed to our annual giving campaign,” she said. “Most of the revenue came from a greater percentage of the population.”
The equivalent of 16 full-time positions are funded by money the foundation raised last fiscal year, according to Gasparini. But the district can’t simply replace state revenues forever, she said.
“There will be a point at which the local community won’t be able to continue funding education,” she said. “The district’s budget is $23 million, and our contribution is over 7 percent, There will be a point where giving flattens out.”