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Grants Help Schools Close Gap Between Dreams, Bottom Line

September 04, 1986|DENISE-MARIE SANTIAGO | Times Staff Writer

Karen Matson had an idea that she believed would instill in her third-grade students the same love for books she helped develop in her own two children. But South Pasadena Unified School District officials told her there was no money available for the project.

Linda Bornheimer, an elementary school science teacher, wanted to start a program designed to make science fun for both teachers and students. South Pasadena school district officials told Bornheimer they liked the idea but could not afford to implement it.

Betty Doty, a junior high school social studies teacher, wanted to attend a conference so she could learn how to use computers in the classroom. But Doty did not even approach her supervisors. The $850 cost "was probably too great at that point," she said.

"Teachers were going to have to stop dreaming because there just wasn't any money," Bornheimer said.

Help From Foundation

Faced with such financial restrictions, the teachers turned to the South Pasadena Educational Foundation for help.

The foundation was established in 1981 to raise money for the public school system, which, like most districts, suffered severe budget cuts because of Proposition 13 and changes in the way state education funds are allocated.

From the $300,000 the foundation has donated to the system since the program began, each of the three teachers got a direct grant to fund her dreams.

The foundation can "afford to try things that the district can't afford to do in their budget," explained Harcourt Hervey III, president of the group.

Run by Volunteers

The South Pasadena foundation is run by 19 volunteers who serve on a board of trustees, and 20 more on an advisory board, under an organizational structure similar to that of other foundations set up to help school districts in Pasadena, Arcadia and San Marino.

Trustees are appointed by the board to serve three-year terms. They often go on to serve as consultants to the advisory board, Hervey said.

About 10 other volunteers help raise money through auctions, telethons and districtwide appeals to parents. Most foundations have a core group of volunteers who are directly involved in collecting donations. The Pasadena group, for example, relies on about 20 volunteers to raise money.

"When we started, we wanted to be an extra," said Lois Matthews, president of the San Marino Schools Foundation. "But because of state cutbacks, we really are a necessity at this point to provide a quality education. We are not providing frills."

Assistance Needed

Since it was established six years ago, the San Marino group has donated about $1.25 million, which goes into the district's general fund.

School systems need these financial boosts, said Yvonne Pine, president of the South Pasadena school board, because yearly state allocations for education have remained the same or increased only slightly since Proposition 13 went into effect in 1978.

Because of rising costs, buying power has decreased by about half in that time, Pine estimated.

Countywide, the amount of state funding to unified school districts has risen to $3.4 billion from $2.2 billion in 1978, said Dan Warden, assistant director of business advisory services for the Los Angeles County Office of Education. But because of inflation, buying power actually has decreased by about 3%, Warden said.

Necessary Reductions

"We haven't gotten enough to maintain the status quo," said Pine of South Pasadena, where staff cuts and reductions in programs such as foreign-language classes, nursing services and major maintenance and repair projects have been necessary.

The district continues to do without some programs, but the cost of restoring others, such as a vocal music program and some library services, has been picked up by the foundation, Pine said.

Some districts have come to rely heavily on foundations for help.

When the San Marino school board planned its $8.5-million budget for the coming year, it included $250,000 in anticipation of a contribution in that amount from the San Marino foundation.

'Rather Awkward'

"It's a rather awkward process," said San Marino schools Supt. David Brown. "We just anticipate what they'll have. But the foundation has not failed the first six years to make good its commitment."

The district usually gets the money in March or April, Brown said.

Such budgetary planning is "risky," said Mary Snaer, president of the San Marino school board, "but we take that risk in order to avoid cutting back programs or staff."

"My vision is that some day the board will be able to wean itself away from dependence on the foundation for general funding," she said. "But I don't see that happening in the near future."

The Pasadena Educational Foundation earmarks its contributions for individual teachers or schools because its leaders think the money should be used only for instructional purposes and not for such things as equipment and maintenance.

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