Parents In Santa Monica Raise Money For Schools

Public schools are letting out for the summer, but for many budget-strapped school districts this year, there isn't going to be time for vacation. In wealthy Santa Monica, Calif., parents will be spending the summer trying to raise $7 million to keep class sizes the same, teachers employed and school nurses and librarians on the job.

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A lot of schools are out for the summer but here in California, where schools have faced big budget cuts, there's work to do. Many communities will spend the summer raising cash to avoid more cuts. As Lisa Napoli reports, fundraising is the new reality for some public schools.

LISA NAPOLI: Yearbook day at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica. This semester, classes ended a week early because of teacher and staff furloughs.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you all for being here tonight.

NAPOLI: A couple of blocks away, at the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board headquarters, even though it's June, parents have kicked into stealth fundraising mode at this emergency meeting. After a local ballot initiative that would have raised money for education failed to win the necessary majority last month, the school budget was slashed by $7 million. It had been pared down by over $4.5 million the year before.

Linda Gross runs the private education foundation that supports this district. She says they have 60 days to raise as much money as possible.

Ms. LINDA GROSS: Usually in a normal fundraising campaign, we set a goal that's been well-thought out, well-researched. We don't have the luxury of time to do that.

NAPOLI: What they have is plenty of ideas: a viral video campaign, special appeals to wealthy alumni and local businesses, fundraising parties and booths at the mall.

Parent Liz Dubelman didn't bargain for any of this when she moved to pricey Santa Monica for the public schools she'd heard were great. She said she was shocked to find out private funds are relied on to pay for everything from pencils and paper towels to staff.

Ms. LIZ DUBELMAN: The idea that we have to donate for teachers' salaries was mind-blowing to me.

NAPOLI: Parents all over California have been learning that even if they live in wealthy communities, public education's going to cost them extra. Residents of affluent San Marino, near Pasadena, pay $4,000 to $5,000 in extra parcel taxes and donations to offset public school there. Some parents feel that's a bargain compared to the $30,000 a year private school tuition can set them back.

These days, 600 of the state's thousand school districts supplement dwindling state budgets with private, nonprofit foundations. Fundraising consultant Tim Shaw says this is not your mother's PTA.

Mr. TIM SHAW: The days of a completely free public education are over. Bake sales and candy sales and magazine sales and car washes - that doesn't cut it anymore. When you're talking multimillion-dollar budget deficits, you need more sophisticated fundraising and revenue methods.

NAPOLI: Shaw says communities can't wait for governments to fix school funding. They need to be raising money and endowments the way universities do.

As they mobilize for an intense summer, parents and friends of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District are assigning tasks and rallying morale. In just two weeks, $300,000 has poured in. That'll bring back six teaching positions. This is no consolation to pink-slipped elementary school teacher Monica McCauley. She's here as both an educator and a mother of a teenage son in the district's high school. And she can't believe it's come to this.

Ms. MONICA MCCAULEY: We're seeing children put up lemonade stands with the Save Our Teachers posters on there. And it's very, very unfortunate.

NAPOLI: But even worse off, McCauley said, are the school districts that don't have the built-in wealth and resources like this one.

For NPR News, I'm Lisa Napoli, Los Angeles.

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