School foundations filling the gaps

By Marsha Sutton

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct information on Friends of LJES efforts.

As state funding cuts for education continue to deepen and local school officials are talking about the possibility of insolvency, schools are relying more heavily on nonprofit foundations to help close the funding gap.

La Jolla’s five public schools each have their own 501(c)(3) foundations that raise money to support everything from facilities and capital improvement projects to instructional materials and staffing.

This year, the combined amount of money sought by all five local foundations, which represent nearly 4,400 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, is about $1.65 million.

“It’s become much more difficult to stretch the dollar,” said La Jolla High School principal Dana Shelburne.“The foundation has been there consistently to fill the ever-increasing financial void that we’re all experiencing.”

The recent focus on the right to a free public education, which prohibits charging for classroom supplies, athletics and most other extra-curricular activities, has made it even more challenging, he said.

“It’s an ongoing struggle,” Shelburne said. “I’ve taken the bone and I’ve boiled it and there’s no meat left. I can’t even make soup out of it.”

Sandy Erickson, president of the Foundation of La Jolla High School, hopes to raise about $350,000 this year, through a general appeal and three fundraisers: the recent Oct. 11 Taste of La Jolla (which attracted over 400 people and raised about $17,500), the annual gala in March to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the opening of La Jolla High School, and the 16th annual golf classic tournament in April at the La Jolla Country Club.

Last year, donations totaled about $510,000, but that figure included a special campaign called Conquer the Cuts which brought in $160,000, specifically to raise money for teaching and staffing positions. That won’t happen again this year, Erickson said.

“Normally, the foundation is not in the people business,” said Shelburne.

The foundation, which began in 1983 as the La Jolla Boosters Club to support athletics, broadened its mission in 1986 to include expanded academic course offerings and, according to its website, “badly needed maintenance and improvements to La Jolla High School's physical plant, and other critical resources necessary to continue to deliver a superior secondary education.”

Not including the school’s endowment fund, there was about $700,000 on account at the start of this school year. Erickson said there are more than 100 funds that parents can earmark their money for. Most designate their contributions for a particular athletic sport, but there are also funds for a variety of academic programs. Only about $18,000 was designated for the general fund.

La Jolla High School educates about 1,625 students in grades 9-12, down about 2 percent from a year ago.

Muirlands

At nearby Muirlands Middle School, which enrolls about 1,100 students in grades 6-8 (3 percent more than in 2010), Foundation president Kristi Pieper said donations are primarily spent “on salaries for which district funding is no longer available.”

This includes after-school tutors, science classroom support, 50 percent of the salary and benefits of one counselor, and a portion of the salaries for a vice-principal, a nurse and a librarian.

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