School district to sell naming rights

UCLA has its Pauley Pavilion, and USC boasts the Keck School of Medicine. Now, La Cañada Unified buildings and athletic venues may also bear the names of their most generous patrons as school officials get creative with fundraising.

The district released last week a list of dozens of school facilities and programs, the names of which could be sold to donors as part of a new revenue-generating effort.

If approved — the school board could vote as early as next month — it would place La Cañada Unified among a small but growing contingent of public school districts hawking naming rights in order to suture bleeding budgets. Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes school districts already have naming policies in place, and San Marino may consider something similar in the coming year.

Glendale and Burbank school districts do not have formal policies on naming rights, their spokespeople said.

Some of the priciest options include the La Cañada High School football stadium and library for $1 million, elementary school playgrounds for $750,000, and cafeterias for $500,000. Naming rights for individual classrooms are listed for $100,000 a piece. Auditorium chairs and computer stations would be available for $2,500 each.

The donations would not fund capital projects, but instead go into the general fund to offset the district’s operating costs, said school board Vice President Scott Tracy. La Cañada Unified will retain the right to scrutinize and reject any gifts and naming requests deemed to be at odds with its mission.

Under existing board policy, district officials can name a school facility after an individual in recognition of a significant contribution, financial or otherwise. But it does not outline specific dollar amounts to trigger that naming process.

The recently released dollar thresholds were set after studying naming opportunities at Flintridge Preparatory School and Loyola High School, among others, Tracy said.

Individuals who have already given more than $250,000 to La Cañada Unified are automatically eligible to have their name on a facility, Tracy said. Those who have given between $100,000 and $250,000 are asked to contribute at least $25,000 more in exchange for naming rights, while those who want to see their names on an auditorium chair or computer lab station are expected to make new contributions in the full amount, he added.

Donors can also opt to buy naming rights for a specific program, such as a sports team or instrumental music group, for a minimum contribution of $50,000, officials said. Those looking to fund a program can do so with a one-time gift spread out over either five or 10 years, or in the form of an standing endowment to be managed by the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation.

“The thought there is that if you have children in schools you may only care about [the naming rights] until your kid gets out — five years or 10 years or whatever it is,” Tracy said. “ But someone whose kids are long gone — there is going to be more of a legacy approach. They are not worried about five years or 10 years, they are looking at the long haul.”

Board member Joel Peterson said that the district is hoping to attract a healthy mix of one-time gifts and endowments so as to balance cash flow needs with long-term financial goals.

“Let’s say you got 10 people each to put in $50,000 [in endowments],” Peterson said. “That is a big chunk of money that is just sitting there, but only $25,000 a year is coming to offset the general fund. That doesn’t necessarily move the needle much for the amount of money that has been donated.”

The district began to consider changing the existing policy at the request of La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation endowment trustees, who felt that they could use it to attract additional dollars, Tracy said.

The idea was formally raised during a school board meeting in June when then-Supt. Jim Stratton said that there are two community members whose life-time contributions to the district are nearing $850,000 each. Establishing specific dollars amounts for naming rights could serve to honor those who have given generously in the past, as well as incentivize future donations, he said.

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