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.
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.
The money is also used for small grants for teachers, classroom textbooks, school clubs, anti-bullying assemblies, youth leadership training, scholarships for field trips, science supplies, microscope maintenance, teacher luncheons and cultural arts.
A campus beautification project also brings in money that funds school benches, places plants on campus, and helps keep the school and grounds clean.
The Muirlands Foundation, formed in 1989, hopes this year to raise $200,000. Last year, nearly $97,000 was donated, Pieper said.
“Next year there will be deeper budget cuts, and most likely some will happen in the middle of this year,” she said. “Generous donations given to Muirlands keep the school running smoothly and academically competitive.”
La Jolla’s three elementary schools — Bird Rock, La Jolla and Torrey Pines — each have their own foundations to support the instructional and enrichment needs of their kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
Bird Rock Elementary, with an all-time high this year of 530 students (plus 5 percent over a year ago), has a fundraising goal of $450,000 which comes to about $865 per student, said foundation president Neda Mesri. This is the amount required “to bridge the gap between public funding and the cost of our high quality education,” according to the foundation’s website.
“It is easy to think that the foundation’s only concern is to raise funds, but our core mission is much broader,” Mesri said in an e-mail. “It is to support and enhance the curriculum at Bird Rock Elementary School whenever possible. It is to create strong connections between school, family and the community.”
Torrey Pines Elementary School this year also has its highest enrollment ever: 520 students — a gain of 7 percent. TPES foundation president Erin Brown said the goal is provide “funds necessary to keep programs alive at TPES that otherwise are unfunded by the district.”
The money raised supports class size reduction, technology, art, choral music, physical education, writing and literacy programs, math curriculum enhancement, library resources, field trips, $150 per teacher for classroom needs, science lab supplies and other equipment.
Last year’s campaign brought in about $325,000, and the goal this year is $256,500, Brown said. The TPES foundation was formed in the mid-1980s.
La Jolla Elementary School’s foundation, the Friends of La Jolla Elementary Inc., raises money to pay for additional teachers in third, fourth and fifth grades, art and choral supplies and staffing, technology, a full-time library technician, and instructional material for classrooms.
The nonprofit Friends was founded in 1984 and hopes to raise about $400,000 this year, or about $550 per student, said foundation president Donna Scurio. Of that the Friends have a goal of $200,000, with the rest hopefully coming from proceeds from the La Jolla Open Aire Marekt.
The market, which was founded to benefit La Jolla Elementary with its 630 students (2 percent higher), should bring in about $200,000, said market founder Sherry Ahern.
Ahern, who started the weekly farmers market 13 years ago this month to help pay for a library and librarian, began with 14 vendors and now has about 150 vendors and hundreds of shoppers.
Ahern also founded and coordinates the annual La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, held earlier this month. Money raised from the two-day event, estimated this year to be about $60,000, is divided equally among the three La Jolla elementary schools. Although “down a little bit from last year,” Ahern said the event, now in its third year, attracted over 10,000 people.
Calling the underfunding of education tragic, Ahern is an enthusiastic supporter of all the foundations’ efforts, and said, “We have to do what we can to support our kids.”
Dollars for education
Parents at private schools also support foundations and special events at their children’s schools and pay taxes as do parents whose children attend public schools. But they also pay tuition and fees.
Here are ranges for tuition (not counting fees for such things as books and learning materials or special activities) at some area private schools. Figures shown do not include rates for after-school, early childhood or pre-kindergarten programs.
• The Evans School (K-6) $17,100-$20,500
• Gillispie (K-6) $17,820-$18,260
• Stella Maris Academy (K-8) $5,500-$7,600
• All Hallows Academy (K-8) $7,000-$82,000
• San Diego French American School (K-8) $13,000-$13,500
• The Children’s School (K-8) $17,325-$18,000
• The Bishop’s School (6-12) $28,000
• La Jolla Country Day (K-12) $23,300-$26,635
• Francis Parker School (K-12) $19,000-$22,400
• San Diego Jewish Academy (K-12) $17,445-$19,995
• Cathedral Catholic High (9-12) $13,004
— Source: School websites
Party will benefit teachers
Philanthro, a nonprofit comprised of young professionals who donate their time to help other nonprofits is hosting a benefit for DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that allows donors to select and fund projects requested by teachers.
Two of Philanthro’s officers, Chief Development Officer Larissa Low and Director of Finance and Operations Jennifer Yee, are La Jolla residents Being held from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Nov. 11 at the W San Diego, 421 West B St., the 2nd Annual All-City Event, ALLiance event will occupy three floors of the downtown hotel.
• Tickets can be purchased at
- They are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
• $15 at the door / $10 pre-sale tickets available
• For more information on Philanthro, please visit
• For more information on DonorsChoose.org, please visit