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Fund Drive Launched for San Marino Schools

Times Staff Writer

To make up for insufficient state funding for local public schools, the San Marino Schools Foundation has launched a $2.5-million fund-raising campaign targeting private corporations and foundations.

The foundation, a volunteer, nonprofit organization devoted to raising money for the San Marino Unified School District, has already raised $586,000, even though the campaign will not officially start until Thursday, said Barbara Bice, director of school relations and development for the district.

The San Marino organization is following the example of other school foundations in seeking money from the private sector. Officials with the San Francisco Education Fund said they raised $1.3 million from corporations and foundations last year. A foundation that raises money for the Beverly Hills school system hopes to launch a similar effort soon to raise $5 million.

“We’re doing this like a college campaign,” said Bice, referring to sophisticated fund-raising strategies used by many colleges and universities. “We’re doing what other school districts will have to, because the state is not helping us.”

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Bice, who is helping coordinate the effort, sought advice from the University of Southern California. USC President James Zumberge, a member of the foundation’s advisory board, suggested that she consult Roger Olson, a university senior vice president in charge of fund raising.

Olson said he outlined the strategies universities typically use. He told her she needed to develop a master plan to determine the district’s needs, set a time frame for the campaign, identify potential donors and solicit contributions.

$350,000 Annually

He also advised her to have several major pledges in hand before formally announcing the program.

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The foundation, formed about eight years ago, raises about $350,000 annually, primarily through contributions from San Marino residents, said Robert Thompson, assistant superintendent in charge of business for the district. But that will provide only 2% of the district’s $9.5-million budget this school year, he said.

Money from the two-year campaign will be used to fund programs outlined in a five-year master plan the foundation completed following 18 months of study, Bice said.

The master plan focuses on strengthening the curriculum, increasing salaries and benefits for teachers, and improving buildings and equipment.

Donors are being asked to make minimum contributions of $7,500. The response to preliminary solicitations has been “very positive,” said Don Clark, co-chairman of the campaign.

Promoted as an “Investment in Academic Excellence,” the campaign has received a $100,000 donation from the Mericos Foundation of South Pasadena and a $25,000 gift from the Los Angeles-based Torrey Webb Trust.

The Mericos grant will be used to upgrade foreign-language programs at San Marino High School and Huntington Intermediate School.

On Thursday, officials will dedicate a section of the high school that will be devoted to foreign-language classes and that has been equipped with money from the Mericos grant.

Schools or education foundations began forming statewide after the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, which has made it more difficult for local governments to raise property taxes that had been the major source of school funding. But state allocation for education failed to keep pace with inflation and the needs of many school districts, forcing an increasing number to turn to private donations.

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Because school funding from the state now depends in part on enrollment and attendance figures, the San Marino district and others with declining enrollments have seen their revenues drop. But costs continue to climb.

“Just because you have one less student doesn’t mean you use less electricity,” said Thompson. The district’s student enrollment has dropped from 3,650 10 years ago to less than 2,700 now, he said.

Another source of funds comes from the state lottery, but that accounts for only 3% of the budget of most school districts, said Susie Lange, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

Fifty percent of lottery revenues are used to pay prizes, 20% is spent on administrative costs, and the remaining 30% must be split among public school districts, community colleges and universities.

“People think this is a bonanza,” Lange said of the lottery. “It’s a drop in the bucket.” The distribution works out to be about $100 per student a year, she said.

In the 1988-89 school year, California is projected to spend $4,384 per pupil, which is below the national average of $4,453, she said.


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