Saturday, February 13, 2010



CARL COSTAS / Madeline Adams, a hostess at Chili's Grill and Bar in Rancho Cordova, seats young customers last week during a fundraising event aimed at saving Cordova Lane Elementary School from closure.


CARL COSTAS /  A sign thanks Chili's patrons for helping the school.


CARL COSTAS / Monica Buell makes a donation last week to help keep Cordova Lane school from closing. Students raised $1,400, including a donation from Chili's, which hosted the fundraiser.

By Diana Lambert | The Sacramento Bee

Feb. 10, 2010 - 5:02 pm | Door-to-door candy sales and pizza nights, once reserved for raising money for sixth-grade science camps and out-of-town band performances, now are keeping school libraries open, paying salaries and buying computers.

And in Rancho Cordova, a group of parents, community leaders and teachers is hoping to raise enough money to keep a school open.

Students asked diners at a Chili's restaurant in Rancho Cordova last week for donations to save Cordova Lane Elementary School, which district officials have threatened to shutter next year. Kristy Elder, a parent and co-founder of Save Cordova Lane, said the kids raised $1,400, including a percentage of Chili's sales, that evening.

Folsom Cordova Unified School District officials, facing a $10.2 million budget gap, say the group will have to raise $300,000 by March 1 to keep the school open next year. The parent group has collected about $10,000 so far.

Threats of school closures, staff layoffs and program cancellations have pushed parent-teacher organizations and school foundations into fundraising overdrive.

Kara Joseph, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Edna Batey Elementary in Elk Grove, says state budget cuts have changed the way the state's parent-teacher groups do business. In previous school years, the PTA at Edna Batey held one big fundraiser – a catalog sale – to buy new books for the library, to provide classroom science and art supplies and to fund movie nights and dances.

"It's been the fun stuff and a little classroom stuff," she said.

But state budget cuts changed everything.

This school year, Joseph said, "We knew we were facing a completely different situation." The outcome: a calendar of back-to-back fundraisers that include pastry and cookie dough sales, a slew of fundraisers at local restaurants, a membership drive and a paper drive, among other things.

She said the proceeds are helping pay for items once funded by the school district, including after-school GATE and art programs.

At Del Dayo Elementary School in Carmichael last year, the parent-teacher organization raised about $130,000 through a jogathon, an auction, electronic-waste collection and gift wrap sales. The group pays the salary of a media technician and supplements library staff salaries. It buys computers, interactive white boards, and office and classroom supplies. And, it pays for landscaping projects, assemblies, an art docent program and family nights.

"There is a stronger push for fundraising because each year more things are cut," said Tina Ramazzini, past president of the PTO.

The California State Parent Teacher Association doesn't support all this fundraising. "Our position is, when we're asked to fill in for the basic items, the cuts have gone too far," said Jo Loss, president of the state PTA.

She said expecting parents to fund basic educational needs creates greater inequities among schools: Schools in higher-income areas are able to maintain programs that other schools can't.

And a lot of families have budget problems of their own, Ramazzini said.

"We're having to cover holes … in the same climate we have a lot of parents losing jobs," she said.

At Lichen K-8 School in Citrus Heights, students aren't "poor enough to be Title I but not rich enough to have parents fund things, said Laura Taylor, president of the school's PTA.

Her organization tries to come up with fundraising opportunities such as e-waste collection days that don't come out of parents' pockets. Schools can earn a portion of the proceeds that e-waste recycling businesses make when they take in old computers, televisions, cell phones, DVRs and other electronics from the public.

In the Twin Rivers Unified School District, the fundraising burden rests more on the shoulders of district employees and local businesses. In addition to PTA chapters at a handful of campuses, the district has a foundation that raises money for all of its schools.

Its board is made up of local business people and school staff who volunteer their time.

Kate Bishop, co-director of Project DREAM (Developing Resiliency through Education, the Arts and Mentoring), said the majority of families in the district are considered low- income, and it's hard to count on them for donations.

Edna Batey Principal Michael Sompayrac wrote a letter to parents this school year, asking for donations to the PTA. He recommended $25 per student.

He told parents that the school site budget had been cut from $100,000 to $25,000, and the school needs $40,000 for classroom supplies, athletic equipment, new computer software, after-school drama and art classes, and incentive awards and programs.

"Without your support we will lose these programs," he wrote.

Joseph, the PTA president at Edna Batey, said parents have donated about $7,000 so far.

Sydney Walker, who has a child at John Barrett Middle School in Carmichael and another at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, wishes more schools would take the direct appeal approach.

So far this school year, she said she has had to buy and try to sell candles, pastry dough, magazines and tulip bulbs to benefit programs at her kids' schools. She's spent a couple of hundred dollars already.

It's not spending the money that bothers her, she said. It's that the school usually gets only about 50 percent of the money earned in most fundraisers. And she's afraid the neighbors may be tired of the constant requests.

"I'd rather say 'Here is a check for $100,' " she said.

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