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Education Special: Foundations Funding Schools

This report and others in this series were made possible by The Wallace Foundation, The Principal Story project, and the Knowledge Center.

Education Special: Foundations Funding Schools
As part of our special series on education, These Days looks at the role private foundations are playing in funding San Diego's public schools.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to a special These Days broadcast from the campus of Lincoln High School. KPBS reporter Joanne Faryon has joined me at our table right outside the library here on the Lincoln High campus. Hi, Joanne.

JOANNE FARYON (KPBS Reporter): Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we learned earlier today that the bulk of the more than $120 million it took to rebuild this beautiful campus came from San Diego city taxpayers. That's the typical public we all recognize in the public school system; we all contribute tax dollars to provide a good education to the next generation of Americans. But there is now another source of funding for many public schools in San Diego and that source is not quite as public. Joanne Faryon is here to talk about the Envision San Diego television special that's airing tonight on KPBS and what she's found out about parent run school foundations. So, Joanne, let's start out with how many of these foundations are there? And how much money are they raising?

FARYON: Great question, Maureen. Wish I could tell you. That's part of what we learned. No one keeps track of these foundations, not how many there are, or how much money they raise. Districts don't keep track. San Diego Unified's actually in the process of trying to get a list. The state has no requirement other than these foundations register as charitable foundations with the Attorney General's office. But the Department of Education doesn't even – doesn't know how many there are. We know from our research, we actually called all of the school districts and tried to get a list and it looked like about half of the local schools and districts had some kind of foundation. Again, very unscientific survey. How much money are they raising? Well, some of them – some schools are raising anywhere from $50,000, $60,000 a year to more than $2 million a year. Torrey Pines High School raises $2.4 million a year, and that's every year. So you can't think of it as just this one time influx of money. This is part of their regular yearly budget.

CAVANAUGH: And your segment on Envision San Diego about these foundations could be called a tale of two schools. You compare two schools in San Diego Unified School District, one in a rich neighborhood, one in a not-so-rich neighborhood. Tell us a little bit about those two schools.

FARYON: We went to La Jolla Elementary, of course in La Jolla. It has a foundation. And these foundations, these are parents, parents of the kids who go to the school. They get together. In the old days, we called them booster clubs and so – and they had bake sales. Well, now these parents get together and they – at La Jolla Elementary they have a farmer's market, for example, that raises $100,000 a year. The La – In total, this elementary school foundation raised last year more than $450,000. It normally raises about $300,000 a year. Again, it had another influx of money because the school wanted to spend money on beautifying the grounds so the day that we were there, they were painting the school, they were replanting, there was artificial turf that was put in. That kind of thing. So we toured the school and saw, from the outside, all of the improvements that had been made. Everywhere you turn, there's a name of a parent. It's sort of a naming opportunity. If you give money, you get your name on the school. We interviewed the principal, Donna Trippi, about the foundation. She's been principal there for ten years, came from the east where she taught school, where there the state paid for programs like art and music and paid for the librarian. Well, as we know in California, that doesn't happen so her foundation pays for these types of programs.

CAVANAUGH: And just before you go on, the other school that you profile is…?

FARYON: Horton Elementary, and this school is 18 miles southeast of La Jolla. It's the same school district. They get the same amount of money from the state except at Horton School the kids are poor. All of them take part in the free lunch and breakfast program. Many of them, English – they're English learners. At that school, they do get extra funds, some of it coming from the federal government to try and bridge the gap. There's an acknowledgement in this state that poor schools aren't necessarily going to do as well as rich schools. They get categorical money. We toured that school as well. Well, you don't see any artificial turf. In fact, there are holes in the playground from where trees were planted but died years ago and never replaced. That school wasn't told it could turn on its air-conditioning in the one building that has air-conditioning.

CAVANAUGH: And that school does not have a foundation.

FARYON: It does not have a foundation.

CAVANAUGH: Now you spoke with the principal of the La Jolla School and it's not as if the principals are unaware of the fact of this inequity between the schools.

FARYON: Absolutely not. And, you know, and I want to tell our audience, too, this isn't a story about rich versus poor. This really is a story about education funding and state budget cuts. These foundations were formed because of that. So I spoke with Donna Trippi, prinicipal of elementary (sic), and asked her, you know, are foundations the new normal in public education and here's what she had to say.

DONNA TRIPPI (Principal, La Jolla Elementary School): I hope that it isn't and – because I really feel that it's not equitable in all schools because there are schools that have foundations and schools like mine that have really very hardworking, very industrious, very effective foundations, and schools with foundations that don't make the kind of – the money or have the kind of fundraising opportunities that we have. So it's not equitable. You know, even school – even all schools with foundations don't make the same amounts of money and don't have the money to supplement in the ways that we do.

CAVANAUGH: So that's Donna Trippi from La Jolla Elementary. You also spoke with the principal of Horton Elementary. What did – what did she have to say?

FARYON: Yes, Robin McCulloch, and she said, you know, look, if someone called me and I could afford it and said give me 300 bucks for your kid, I'd give the money for my kids, too, for, you know – I know that these parents are trying to do the best that they can for their children. But, she says, we've got to look at the community as a whole. So here's what she has to say.

ROBIN MCCULLOCH (Principal, Horton Elementary School): You know, I would like to think that members of our community, no matter where they live, would like our community to be healthy, would like all of our children to be educated. My feeling is that educating children in schools like this is an immense responsibility that we all bear and it is not okay to say that my kid in this neighborhood should get something better than a child in another neighborhood because that's eventually going to come back to haunt this city and this state and this country. It is, you know, the number one equity issue nationally, is education, that trying to see to it that all the schools get equal opportunities and I don't, you know – But, unfortunately, I don't think that everybody looks at it that way. That it's more about my child in my neighborhood than it is about education as a whole.

CAVANAUGH: That – Robin McCulloch, principal of Horton Elementary. And in her answer, Joanne, I think that you hear where it's not about rich and poor but really about public funding and what does public funding mean to schools across the board?

FARYON: Exactly. And is this a slippery slope that we’re on with these foundations? I'll give you one example. Rancho Santa Fe, they have 700 students in that very small affluent district. They're able to raise so much money that the publicly funded system would give them a classroom size of more than 30 kids for every teacher. Well, they raised enough money that their classroom size is 17 kids to every one teacher, and that's a public school. Again, you drive across the city and it's much different. Because these foundations aren't regulated, because nobody is keeping track in terms of how they're changing the financial landscape of public education, we don't know. We don't know if in ten years this is the new norm and everyone's going to get a letter. I have a letter here from the Del Mar School District saying you have a kid in our district, can you give us $800.00? I mean, is this going to be the kinds of letters that we get every September when our kids go back to school?

CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call. Susan is calling from City Heights. And, good morning, Susan. Welcome to These Days.

SUSAN (Caller, City Heights): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I just was actually – and the more I thought about it, I was thinking like of like a sisterhood or a brotherhood, a partnership between like a rich neighborhood and a poor neighborhood but what about if you put it all in the same pot and it's all about public education and we're fund raising for everybody?

CAVANAUGH: Well, that's what we used to have and that was called taxing.

FARYON: Exactly. You know, you bring up a couple of really great points. So, absolutely right, Maureen. We had – Before Prop. 13, schools were able to generate a lot more income through property taxes. Prop. 13 was passed in 1978, it rolled back taxes and it put a cap on future taxes so right away it cut billions of dollars from the education overall budget. Now is there some other way to fund schools? Well, what these neighborhoods and these other schools managed to do is find this other way. Some districts like San Diego Unified is saying, hey, should we have a district-wide foundation? Should we spread the wealth? And that is, in fact, what Shelia Jackson had said. She's, of course, the board chairperson. Poway School District, not only do their schools have foundations but the school district has a foundation, again, trying to address this issue. I mean, someone might ask, and we asked this of the State Superintendent of Education, what about taxes? I mean, Prop. 13, should there be some changes? I mean, of course there are bond measures, Mello-Roos, all these sort of other types of mechanisms that can be triggered, you know, if people support them to fund schools. But I think the bottom line is if the state doesn't have the money and it doesn't pass it on to schools, something's going to give.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that this report about a foundation, school foundations around San Diego, is just one part of the Envision San Diego Education television special tonight. Joanne Faryon is KPBS reporter and producer of the Envision San Diego Special on Education. It's tonight at 10:30 on KPBS-TV. Joanne, thanks so much for speaking with us.

FARYON: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone we're going to begin a second hour broadcasting from the campus of Lincoln High School. You're listening to These Days right here on KPBS.

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