Class Warfare

As they battle for bigger budgets, Colorado educators get a crash course in fundraising.

Debbie Lynch, who runs the ten-year-old Aurora Education Foundation, sees the same pattern during similar fund drives with Cub Foods. "There's a lot of difference between a grocery receipt in one part of our district versus another part," she says.

In general, she adds, the Aurora School District can be split into an affluent south and a less-well-to-do north. "We have a couple of elementary schools with PTAs that raise $40,000 off various sales--Vassar or Dartmouth--and others--Kenton, Fulton, Montview--that can hardly muster a parents' organization, much less raise any money," Lynch says.

Jefferson County, whose boundaries include both wealthy suburban communities and inner-city neighborhoods, has a similar split. The south and west parts of the county boast sparkling new schools (Evergreen, Conifer and Dakota Ridge high schools all opened last fall) crammed with modern equipment.

Visit Bradford Elementary, which sits near Lockheed Martin and serves the upper-class Ken Caryl Ranch community, and, says Lyons, "we've got kids on the Internet, traveling to science centers around the world." Or stop by Westridge Elementary, near Chatfield Reservoir. Lyons says that school recently cut a deal with IBM to place a hundred new computers in the school and give each student his own ID number. In exchange, IBM, like MCI in Colorado Springs, gets to use the school as a living sales floor, bringing clients in to watch the students learn.

"And then there's Lumberg Elementary," Lyons adds. "It's an older school, so for starters it couldn't even be wired for such a computer network." The students at the Edgewater school work on ten-year-old Apple computers. "They're just trying to keep their heads above water," she says.

As director of the Jefferson Foundation, Mona Sandoval-Wittmus notices the disparity between rich and poor schools when she reviews grant requests from teachers around District R-1. This year, well-off Bellmar Elementary applied for a grant to use laser discs as a tool for preparing multi-media presentations. Chatfield High School requested a networked and integrated software package that included laptop computers.

Lakewood's Westgate Elementary, meanwhile, simply wanted a few more computers.

"I see that a lot," she says. "Some of the border, inner-city schools are applying to us for just the basics. And the wealthier ones have all the extras."

If there are funding differences from school to school, the gaps in the amount of private money collected between districts can be even more conspicuous. That's what University of Colorado professor Paul Baumann found when he studied "educational entrepreneurship" in several Denver-area districts.

In an article he submitted this past summer to the Journal of Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Baumann compared the amount of money raised by "a suburban school district" west of Denver and an "urban school district." While conceding that some figures were incomplete--particularly from the urban district--Baumann concluded that, outside of direct taxpayer revenue, the suburban district raised $171 per student. The urban district: less than $3 per student.

Baumann says his conclusions are just common sense. "Alternative revenues do have an impact on equity, definitely," he says. "The more affluent the district, the more success it will have raising money, leading to even greater inequity."

Baumann and others involved in such studies admit that, when compared with a school's entire budget, the amount of money being raised privately represents a small fraction--for now. "I think that pretty soon we're going to have to include private money in our calculations of equal school financing," predicts Jane Urschel, a former Boulder Valley school-board member who now works for a state school-board association.

The disparity between districts is vividly illustrated by the state's various education foundations, both in the amount of money they raise and how they raise it. Generally formed by parents in response to a local school funding "crisis," these foundations are nonprofit organizations whose primary purpose is to raise money and then distribute it to teachers and schools within a particular geographical area. Teachers and administrators agree the foundations do wonderful--and increasingly necessary--work.

To the south of Denver, fast-growing and prosperous Douglas County is blessed with two foundations. The first, the Douglas County Educational Foundation, was started in 1990 and boasts an honorary board of trustees that includes First Lady Bea Romer, Lieutenant Governor Gail Schoettler and Channel 4 anchorman Bill Stuart. Last year it raised just over $115,000, including a $15,000 donation from Texaco (for the purchase of scientific "probeware" for three high schools) and $5,000 from Mobil Land Development Corp. (builder of the sprawling Stonegate subdivision). It raises money through concerts and a golf tournament, which this past October was held at the exclusive Castle Pines Golf Club.

Douglas County also is home to the School Facilities Trust Fund Foundation. Founded in 1993 by local homebuilders such as Mission Viejo, Richmond, Oakwood and U.S. Homes, the developers established the trust fund as an alternative to a building impact fee levied by Douglas County a year earlier.

While state courts were deciding whether the impact fees were legal (in December the Supreme Court determined that they were not), the developers placed a portion of the money collected from the fees in an escrow account. Today that account holds more than $10 million, says Steve Ormiston, vice-president of marketing for Mission Viejo and vice-president of the trust fund's board of directors.

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