Class Warfare

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

So far, the Douglas County School District has drawn from the fund to pay for expansions of Highlands Ranch High School and Ponderosa Elementary and to cover the entire cost of building Trailblazer Elementary from the ground up. In addition, Ormiston says, members of the trust have contributed time and money to the design of three more schools soon to be built.

Such foundation support is great for Douglas County--and a pipe dream for an urban district like Denver. "I wish we had one of those," sighs Frye.

The Foundation for Boulder Valley Schools raises about $200,000 annually, including, this past year, a $25,000 donation from the locally based Quantum Corporation. That money will be used to start a new "Quantum Leap Initiative" to raise even more money, which will be earmarked to "enhance student learning through the use of technology."

Cherry Creek also has a flush foundation. As home to some of the most expensive real estate in Colorado, Cherry Creek School District No. 5 has been one of the state's largest losers in the drive to provide equal funding for Colorado's schools. Equality has been unpopular there.

"People want to say, 'Well, Cherry Creek is a wealthy district.' But we don't receive any more per-pupil spending than any other district in the state," complains Claudia Myers, executive director of the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation. "So to say we are a wealthy district is false. In fact, it could be that we receive less because we don't have as many 'at-risk' students, who attract more state money."

So the foundation has been busily trying to make up for lost state funding since its founding in 1993. It has been very successful; this year Myers hopes to collect $360,000 in private contributions. "Each year I've been here, we've doubled what we got from the year before," she says.

One of the foundation's more profitable fundraisers is a "leadership luncheon" that targets potential donors in the business community. Past speakers have included former Nuggets coach Dan Issel and, last March, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan (whose luncheon raised $200,000, including a grant from an out-of-state foundation). How did the foundation nab the two busy men? Simple: Both of them live in the district.

The Jefferson Foundation has put the arm on its county's wealthier residents, too. Kent Landmark is the treasurer of the foundation; he also is president of FirstBank, which, not coincidentally, made a $50,000 donation to the Jefferson Foundation. So did Jeffco resident Bill Coors, who recently wrote a check for $10,000.

Since it was founded four years ago, the Littleton Public Schools Foundation has raised a half-million dollars for its already generally well-off students. Last year the foundation hired its first full-time director, Jane Robb.

Robb says such foundations help put parents back in charge of their children's education. "It brings the ability of what you want to do back into the community," she explains. "If a science lab in a middle school isn't what you think your child needs, you don't have to wait for some administrative decision."

Her district-wide foundation is careful to distribute the money equitably, Robb notes. "We do not discriminate from school to school, or even necessarily try to spread the grants out among schools," she says. Rather, the foundation bases its grants entirely on the creativity and value of individual proposals.

But Jeffco's Lyons says such even-handed treatment, while democratic, does little to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. If the Littleton foundation pays just as much attention to the pleas of an already well-off school as it does to those of a poor one, she notes, certain schools will always be playing catch-up.

As other schools catch on to the value of education foundations, it's no longer just the wealthy districts irked at school-finance reform that boast their own tax-free fundraising groups. Today the Colorado Consortium of School Foundations has nearly two dozen members.

Back outside of Carbondale, the Roaring Fork School District recently called on local resident Pete Rohan to run the new Roaring Fork Education Foundation. He will try to raise money for schools across the sprawling district, which in addition to Carbondale includes Basalt and Glenwood Springs. Rohan, a former national vice-president for Junior Achievement, says he has great hopes for future fundraising. As of now, however, the Roaring Fork Education Foundation has raised about $10,000.

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