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.