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Affluent Parents Boost Budgets

Times Staff Writer

Parents in affluent communities throughout California are mobilizing to raise millions of dollars through mail and telephone campaigns, auctions and bake sales to help their public schools save jobs, keep classes small and maintain music, sports and other programs, which are at risk because of the state budget crisis.

For years, many of these same communities have donated generously for computers, uniforms, field trips and arts classes. But as current efforts take on urgency because of proposed funding cuts in Sacramento, parents groups are doubling and tripling their previous targets.

For example, parents and community members in Manhattan Beach report that they have raised nearly $1 million this month toward a goal of more than $3 million, helping to keep classes at 20 students in primary grades and saving jobs for some of the 20 custodians, librarians and secretaries who expected to be laid off this year. The money may also salvage many jobs for 57 teachers who received layoff warning notices recently, said Manhattan Beach Unified School District Supt. Gerald Davis.

“This is a community that loves their schools, and they should be celebrating,” Davis said, noting that the goal of the emergency fund is triple those of previous years. The budget crisis has “just been devastating. We’ve had people crying from losing their jobs.”

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Meanwhile, Irvine parents persuaded school board members to save the district’s class size-reduction program last week, after activists raised $350,000 in two months.

South Pasadena parents have organized a “Save Our Schools” campaign to call every household in the area for financial support. Parents have also set up donation centers in front of local art events and City Council meetings, with a goal of raising $400,000 by June.

The superintendent of South Pasadena Unified, Michael Hendricks, said the district is expecting a $2.2-million shortfall from its $26-million budget, and may lay off nearly 30 employees.

“We want to bring back our teachers and programs,” said Terry Granath, a parent and coordinator of the campaign.

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Superintendents from less wealthy school districts said they have not noticed such an outpouring of financial support because parents are often too busy working and paying their own household bills.

Paul Goldfinger, vice president for School Services of California Inc., a consulting firm that advises districts, said parents often feel compelled to save programs or teachers at their children’s campuses during tight economic times. As long as such donations are made to the entire district, not just to one school, parent groups have a right to restrict how the money is used, such as reducing class size or preserving teachers’ jobs.

Hermosa Beach, Santa Monica-Malibu and Las Virgenes school districts have organized similar financial campaigns.

“I do believe the economy goes in cycles, but our children have a one-shot chance at receiving a quality education,” said Jennifer Alvarado, a parent who has two sons in the Hermosa Beach City School District. “We’re going to the parents as a last resort. People have really looked everywhere to preserve these programs.”

Alvarado is co-president of the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation, a coalition of parents and community members that raised about $100,000 at a Mardi Gras-themed dinner and auction on Saturday for 300 guests. Alvarado said parents are still seeking donations in hopes of raising $300,000 to cover the district’s projected shortfall.

Parents in Las Virgenes Unified School District soon will begin a campaign with a goal of $3 million, said Debbi Molnar, a parent and organizer. “We’re just hoping to be able to save whatever programs we can save,” she said. “It’s sad, it’s truly sad.”

Donald Zimring, deputy superintendent of 12,100-student Las Virgenes Unified, said his administration has been very clear in letting parents know that their fund-raising efforts “will be for the good of all children,” he said. “One school fund-raiser will not beat out another.”

Slashing programs for reducing class sizes, music classes and staff positions are all being considered, as Las Virgenes faces a $3-million cut from its $79.5-million budget, he said.

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Districts like Las Virgenes have been fortunate to receive support from the community, but such assistance has come about because high-quality schools do not just help students, Zimring said.

“Our schools are vital components of property value in this community,” Zimring said. “Certainly we all want to believe this is in the best interest of children, but it’s also a self-interest to the community, because it goes to the heart of what keeps our property values high and makes this a very sought-after place to live.”

Santa Monica parents, who have been at the forefront of protests against education budget cuts, will hold a “pink slip parade” on April 5. It will run from Palisades Park to the Promenade, and will include many of the 207 Santa Monica-Malibu district employees who received layoff warning notices this month. It was organized to gain support for a proposed $6.2-million parcel tax aimed at filling the gap of $13 million in expected school budget cuts.

“We have no choice but to try and protect our schools,” said Cheri Orgel, PTA spokeswoman.

In Manhattan Beach, parents asked every family for a pledge of $600 per child, in the 6,300-student district. They are also rallying support for a parcel tax, which would annually cost $108 per parcel or housing unit over the next five years.

Such donations and taxes may seem expensive, but they are “still cheaper than private school,” said Carolyn Leserman, president of the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation.

Hundreds of volunteers wrote letters, made phone calls and solicited help from corporations, and within 3 1/2 weeks they raised nearly $1 million, Leserman said.

“This is basically to save our schools next year, but then what are we going to do after that?” she said.

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