Longform

Class Warfare

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This frantic quest for cash is creating a new breed of principals and administrators who, in addition to overseeing schools, must now concentrate on fundraising as well. To get them in the right frame of mind, Jefferson County District R-1 asks its principals to join the local chamber of commerce.

Down the mountain, the Denver School for the Arts is in the process of moving from Cole Middle School to Byers, on South Pearl Street. The district has already informed the school's administrators that they will have to come up with most of the money for necessary renovations. "The principal will have to be like a college president, glad-handing and fundraising," in addition to running the new school, predicts Frye.

Back in Colorado Springs, Cooper attributes the district's go-get-'em fundraising efforts to Superintendent Kenneth Burnley. "He let it be known early on that he had a vision of entrepreneurship," says Cooper. The superintendent has shared his vision, producing a series of tapes featuring motivational speakers and a cameo of Burnley himself, which the district sells to companies and other schools.

The message of self-sufficiency has filtered down through the district. Recently two District 11 elementary schools enticed MCI, which has a large office complex in Colorado Springs, to use their classrooms as demonstration projects. The company supplies the schools with its latest computers. In exchange, the schools serve as a living, breathing pitch for MCI's sales force. This year, notes Cooper, MCI assigned a full-time employee to the schools.

Other school principals have made do with what they can. Two years ago Colorado Springs's Wasson High School went to a block schedule, modeled after Colorado College. Rather than the traditional change-subjects-at-the-bell model, Wasson students study a single subject for several weeks and then move on to another subject. The program has proved popular, and school administrators across the country have contacted Wasson to learn more.

What to do if you want to be an entrepreneurial administrator in an entrepreneurial district? This year Wasson began charging fees for its time and experience, in effect turning its employees into paid educational consultants. Over the next few months a team of Wasson teachers and administrators will fly to Hawaii and Connecticut to give talks on block scheduling. The money they earn will flow back into Wasson to benefit the high school students there.

The competition for cash can cause friction, pitting school against school or school against district. Last year, as administrators sought to nail down either Pepsi or Coke as the sponsor of a new sports stadium in Jefferson County, negotiations bogged down. The reason: individual principals, particularly in the district's high schools, had already been cutting "exclusive" vending machine deals of their own, playing the soft-drink manufacturers against each other in an effort to raise money for their particular schools.

Many of the principals' deals had to be scuttled. "The district had to put the kibosh on that," recalls Cheri Lyons, who works to secure grants and other alternative funding for Jefferson County.

That didn't solve the basic problem, though. The most recent area of contention, Lyons says, is before- and after-school daycare centers, a growing source of extra cash for individual schools. For years private day-care providers have griped about the trend, with companies such as Children's World complaining that public schools were eating into their business.

Now principals are squabbling, complaining that it hurts their business when a nearby school opens a before-and-after center. "There's not much guidance from the district, so things are kind of going crazy out there," Lyons says.

One of the most popular ways schools raise money is through coupon books. Students usually hawk the books--which have ski and fast-food discounts--for $10, of which their individual school gets to keep $7. Some schools are successful with coupon-book sales. Others aren't.

Last fall, when the district's coupon campaign began, Lakewood High School decided not to participate at all. One reason, according to the Jefferson Foundation, was that the neighborhood hadn't been very supportive; the previous year the school had sold all of 21 booklets. (An administrator says part of the reason for the poor sales was that the neighborhood was saturated by elementary-school-aged salespeople.)

Meanwhile, across the district in the affluent southwest corner, students from Westridge Elementary sold 2,200 of the coupon books.

In the past, private funding has trickled, rather than gushed, into the schools, so districts haven't made much of an attempt to measure where the money comes from, where it goes and whether it is spread evenly. Nevertheless, officials insist that they stress--and generally attain--equity.

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer