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Grants Help Schools Close Gap Between Dreams, Bottom Line

Times Staff Writer

Karen Matson had an idea that she believed would instill in her third-grade students the same love for books she helped develop in her own two children. But South Pasadena Unified School District officials told her there was no money available for the project.

Linda Bornheimer, an elementary school science teacher, wanted to start a program designed to make science fun for both teachers and students. South Pasadena school district officials told Bornheimer they liked the idea but could not afford to implement it.

Betty Doty, a junior high school social studies teacher, wanted to attend a conference so she could learn how to use computers in the classroom. But Doty did not even approach her supervisors. The $850 cost “was probably too great at that point,” she said.

“Teachers were going to have to stop dreaming because there just wasn’t any money,” Bornheimer said.

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Help From Foundation

Faced with such financial restrictions, the teachers turned to the South Pasadena Educational Foundation for help.

The foundation was established in 1981 to raise money for the public school system, which, like most districts, suffered severe budget cuts because of Proposition 13 and changes in the way state education funds are allocated.

From the $300,000 the foundation has donated to the system since the program began, each of the three teachers got a direct grant to fund her dreams.

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The foundation can “afford to try things that the district can’t afford to do in their budget,” explained Harcourt Hervey III, president of the group.

Run by Volunteers

The South Pasadena foundation is run by 19 volunteers who serve on a board of trustees, and 20 more on an advisory board, under an organizational structure similar to that of other foundations set up to help school districts in Pasadena, Arcadia and San Marino.

Trustees are appointed by the board to serve three-year terms. They often go on to serve as consultants to the advisory board, Hervey said.

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About 10 other volunteers help raise money through auctions, telethons and districtwide appeals to parents. Most foundations have a core group of volunteers who are directly involved in collecting donations. The Pasadena group, for example, relies on about 20 volunteers to raise money.

“When we started, we wanted to be an extra,” said Lois Matthews, president of the San Marino Schools Foundation. “But because of state cutbacks, we really are a necessity at this point to provide a quality education. We are not providing frills.”

Assistance Needed

Since it was established six years ago, the San Marino group has donated about $1.25 million, which goes into the district’s general fund.

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School systems need these financial boosts, said Yvonne Pine, president of the South Pasadena school board, because yearly state allocations for education have remained the same or increased only slightly since Proposition 13 went into effect in 1978.

Because of rising costs, buying power has decreased by about half in that time, Pine estimated.

Countywide, the amount of state funding to unified school districts has risen to $3.4 billion from $2.2 billion in 1978, said Dan Warden, assistant director of business advisory services for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. But because of inflation, buying power actually has decreased by about 3%, Warden said.

Necessary Reductions

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“We haven’t gotten enough to maintain the status quo,” said Pine of South Pasadena, where staff cuts and reductions in programs such as foreign-language classes, nursing services and major maintenance and repair projects have been necessary.

The district continues to do without some programs, but the cost of restoring others, such as a vocal music program and some library services, has been picked up by the foundation, Pine said.

Some districts have come to rely heavily on foundations for help.

When the San Marino school board planned its $8.5-million budget for the coming year, it included $250,000 in anticipation of a contribution in that amount from the San Marino foundation.

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‘Rather Awkward’

“It’s a rather awkward process,” said San Marino schools Supt. David Brown. “We just anticipate what they’ll have. But the foundation has not failed the first six years to make good its commitment.”

The district usually gets the money in March or April, Brown said.

Such budgetary planning is “risky,” said Mary Snaer, president of the San Marino school board, “but we take that risk in order to avoid cutting back programs or staff.”

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“My vision is that some day the board will be able to wean itself away from dependence on the foundation for general funding,” she said. “But I don’t see that happening in the near future.”

The Pasadena Educational Foundation earmarks its contributions for individual teachers or schools because its leaders think the money should be used only for instructional purposes and not for such things as equipment and maintenance.

The Pasadena group, which predates Proposition 13, was started in 1971 by a group of parents and citizens a year after a court-ordered integration plan was implemented in the district.

Its founders wanted to provide special opportunities for students and teachers that would enrich the academic program, said LuVerne LaMotte, a member of the group’s advisory board.

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The foundation has helped pay the expenses of students who attend mock U.N. conferences and participate in summer music festivals and has purchased computers for the district.

Source of Last Resort

“Today the foundation is a source of last resort,” LaMotte said. Since the group started, it has given about $105,000 to the district, most of it for elementary school projects.

The foundation also has funded a separate three-year tutoring and homework assistance program available to all students in the district’s 29 schools, a project that costs the foundation about $50,000 a year.

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Marge Wyatt, who proposed the idea last year when she was a member of the Pasadena school board, said the foundation began its first large-scale appeal to the business community to pay for the project, which begins its second year this fall. The money is used to pay for coordinators, tutors, part-time administrators and supplies. The district is contributing an equivalent amount in the form of services.

Wyatt said the idea came to her when she realized that there were no support systems to help students maintain the C- grade average required for participation in extra-curricular activities. When she retired from the school board after eight years, she became involved in the foundation and now raises money for the tutoring project.

Boosterism

South Pasadena’s Pine said that the foundations play a role beyond helping school districts financially.

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“The foundation has served as a booster club for all of education that has been a wonderful inspiration to the staff and the board,” she said of the South Pasadena group. “It’s regarded by the total community as their investment in local schools.”

“It’s very non-political,” said Alan Newman, vice president of the Arcadia Educational Foundation. “You raise money and give it to the schools. It’s like mother, God and country.”

The Arcadia foundation has donated about $230,000 since it was started in 1981, according to its treasurer, Dennis Dyke.

Picking From ‘Wish List’

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For the first two years, the district “had carte blanche and was able to go ahead and use it however they saw fit,” Dyke said. More recently, each school has submitted a “wish list” that includes everything from special projects to repairing and replacing furniture and buying equipment.

Robert E. Kladifko, president of the Arcadia school board, said that the district depends on the money although it does not include foundation contributions when planning its budget.

“We’re able to use that (foundation) money for things that we just can’t cover in our budget,” he said, including the cost of converting classrooms into science labs and replacing furniture.

Teachers like Matson said that the incentive to try new ideas diminished after Proposition 13. She said that the South Pasadena foundation’s grants have helped to renew her creative drive.

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A Book of One’s Own

She almost gave up on her idea, which was to buy each of the 65 third-grade students at Monterey Hills Elementary School a book that would be theirs to keep and to invite the author to the classroom to discuss and autograph the work.

Matson said she helped her own children start a collection of 150 autographed books, which they treasure.

“They won’t loan them except to mother. And even when I take them (the books) to school, I’ve discovered they’re a little nervous about it,” Matson said.

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The South Pasadena foundation eventually funded the program, under which the students chose one of three children’s books by Clyde Robert Bulla, who lives in the Eagle Rock area. The cost was $350.

Long-Term Projects

Hervey said that although there is no written policy about what the small-grants program will cover, the group has steered clear of paying for maintenance projects and field trips, which the Parent-Teacher Assn. now pays for.

The foundation is looking primarily for projects with long-term effects. And Bornheimer’s science dream is such a project.

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With a $2,000 grant, she began teaching other teachers how to implement a “hands-on” science program. That grant and subsequent grants from the foundation have been used to buy materials for an insect lab, a miniature zoo and microscopes.

The project, which started at Marengo School three years ago, won a state education award last year and has become a part of the science curriculum in all three South Pasadena elementary schools. The program has been so successful that the district is now using state lottery funds to continue it.

Doty received money from the foundation to attend a national computer conference last November, where she learned about using computers in the classroom and what computer software was available.

As well as paying for the conference, the South Pasadena Educational Foundation bought software for a computer she will use this fall.

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“I’m very excited. I honestly think I’m going to be able to compete with MTV now,” Doty said.


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