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BH Schools, Foundation Aim to Raise $1 Million to Save Jobs

The fundraising effort embodies what is becoming the new norm for financing public school programs.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District, like many other California districts, is turning to the pocketbooks of residents to fund its campuses.

Cutbacks in state education funding and the end of one-time federal grants means larger class sizes and fewer arts classes for public schools. At the same time, a growing immigrant population is driving up school enrollment.

In February, the La Canada Flintridge Education Foundation asked each family in the La Canada school district to contribute $2,500 to fund teachers and kindergarten aides. About $2 million has been raised so far, according to the LCFEF website.

A similar effort is under way in Beverly Hills, where organizers hope to raise $1 million in one week to save a dozen teaching and counselor jobs in the 4,700-student district. (Under California law, parent-teacher associations cannot pay for school staff; only foundations can.) Each family has been asked to contribute $365 per student on top of donations already made to the schools.

The campaign is being led by the nonprofit Beverly Hills Education Foundation, with support from the BHUSD administration, the five-member Board of Education, all five school PTAs and the teachers union. The district has postponed a final decision on 2011-12 layoffs until the campaign is over.

Will the effort succeed? Despite its wealthy reputation, the city has many residents who live a modest lifestyle. More than half of Beverly Hills residents are renters, many of them attracted by the city’s excellent schools.

“If we just get money from the usual 20 percent of the population that often contributes, we will fail,” said BHEF Chairman Jonathan Prince, a father in the district who himself graduated from Beverly Hills schools.

Even residents without children in the district are being targeted. Donation envelopes have been sent to every city home, children are being asked to talk to grandparents and the schools are tapping their wide array of alumni.

“If you own property that you rent out or you own a business in Beverly Hills, you will benefit from good city schools,” said Prince. He points to a Rand Corporation 2008 study that shows a direct correlation between quality of schools and property values.

Of course, the district isn’t shy about capitalizing on its famous alumni in order to reach a wide audience.

"Imagine the high school which graduated Albert Brooks, Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Reiner, Nick Cage, Carrie Fisher, Alicia Silverstone and David Schwimmer—to name just a few—suddenly understaffed,” reads an email message sent by the campaign.

About $165,000 has been raised so far. There is daily outreach to parents, with school principals making automated phone calls to homes. Teachers are sending home contribution envelopes that parents are supposed to sign and return, whether or not they donate.

Unlike past BHEF-led fundraisers, every dollar of the so-called One Campaign is going to fund staff salaries. “The BHUSD Board of Education has committed to use the One Campaign funds solely to fund the positions on the list,” according to information on the BHEF website.

The list of positions to be saved was determined by the BHUSD superintendent, the principal of Beverly Hills High School and the principals of the four K-8 schools. Those staff members were on March 15 that they would be laid off if additional funding wasn’t found; state education law requires staff to be told of potential layoffs by that date, with actual layoffs by May 15.

For better or worse, Californians have mastered the nonprofit structures required to raise and spend money on public schools and staff. There are now hundreds of education foundations across the state, according to the California Consortium of Education Foundations. Some of the most active ones include the Redondo Beach Education Foundation, the Irvine Public Schools Foundation and the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation.

With so many foundations, targeted fundraising drives may be fast becoming the new norm for financing public school programs.

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Susie Roberts May 04, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Thank you for a great article. The question we have to ask ourselves is: How much do I value a strong education? When we are continually faced with cuts to our schools, it is viatl that we all step into help. Not having children in school oes not absolve you of your participation. The students of today are facing a rapidly expanding, technology based future. It is now up to us to fill in the gaps of funding. If we don't, who will? We can not afford to wait for Superman. You can be the hero.
Susie Roberts May 04, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Sorry, small keyboard.
DoughBoy May 04, 2011 at 11:36 PM
The goals of this campaign are certianly laudable, but is this the way we are going to fund our public schools going forward -- year-to-year with no strategic planning , and by begging residents to pony up more than they already do in taxes, school supplies, etc? This is not to knock the BH BOE or BHEF, because they are just playing the cards dealt to them by the state of California. But this is not a sustainable model. We need fundamental reform, and the teacher unions need to lead it, not fight it at most every turn. Oh, and please stop the silly Superman references please; this is serious stuff, not a cartoon.
Ellen Lutwak May 05, 2011 at 05:50 AM
Has the school district partnered in any way with the real estate companies and agents who laud the great school district and help keep property values up?
Patricia Turner July 11, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Great article! It is an amazing thing what they've done. BHHS it's one of the best and most prestigious high schools. A lot of famous people graduated from there. I've just been to Michael Libow's concert and he graduated from BHHS as well. Here's a small link from the concert: http://vimeo.com/25991990 Awesome stuff, I assure you! He is one of the best real estate agents in Beverly Hills as well, and he also has a great band.

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