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School Fund-Raisers Expand Role, Aim at Balancing Budget

February 14, 1988|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Ten years ago, the Beverly Hills Education Foundation was formed by a group of parents to raise money to hire specialists and buy equipment for enrichment programs at their schools.

Today, the foundation is no longer a loosely knit group of parents seeking money for limited purposes, but a high-powered fund-raising organization with a paid staff, a $127,000 operating budget and more than 100 volunteers.

One of Most Successful

Its goal this year is to raise $400,000 to $800,000--not for special programs, but to help balance the district's $26-million budget.

Beverly Hills has one of the oldest and most successful of the more than 130 education foundations in the state. Most are in districts that have experienced budget cuts and have come to rely on contributions to keep their public education programs solvent.

Foundation President Murray D. Fischer said the group's focus changed as the district's financial predicament worsened. "The foundation is no longer raising funds to add enrichment programs, but raising money for basic necessities," he said. "We have become the fund-raising arm for the district."

For example, last year a $60,000 emergency contribution from the foundation enabled the financially strapped district to hire two teachers and avoid combining grades to save money.

That contribution was in addition to $1.5 million it had already pledged to the district over a two-year period. And in recent months, the group netted more than $34,000 from a campaign that persuaded residents to turn their state income tax rebate checks over to the schools.

Yet despite these efforts, Beverly Hills schools are sinking further into debt, and the district faces a budget shortage of $1.2 million next year.

Most Ambitious Drive

Fischer said the organization will launch its most ambitious fund-raising drive. "We are going to be aggressive," he said in describing a goal of broadening the foundation's base of support in the affluent school district, one with 4,000 students.

More fund-raising events will be scheduled, he said. In the past the foundation held two major events each year--sponsoring a dinner-dance and selling ads in a calendar distributed to Beverly Hills parents.

Fischer said that this year's campaign will begin March 16 with "Monte Carlo Madness," a casino night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Tickets will cost $200 each, and the evening will include the auctioning of a BMW convertible donated to the organization. Some invitations are written in Persian to appeal to Iranian families.

Also, a temporary thrift shop will open on the district headquarters parking lot, Fischer said. Organizers plan to sell used items under the slogan "finding treasures in trash."

A credit card company has offered to share a percentage of its interest payments with the foundation if it allows the company to issue special cards to parents, Fischer went on. There are also plans to market T-shirts with the Beverly Hills school logo and to hold other fund-raising events including a carnival, a celebrity basketball game and a movie premier.

The foundation hopes to set up a $1-million endowment that would provide regular interest payments to the district, Fischer said. As part of this program, the school board agreed to name or dedicate school buildings, auditoriums and even seats and flagpoles to donors who contribute to the fund.

City Councilman Maxwell H. Salter said he will contribute $100,000 if others can raise $900,000 more to be invested in a special endowment fund providing interest payments to the district.

Beverly Hills school officials have listed a $400,000 contribution from the foundation as revenue in the district's tentative 1988-89 budget to help offset the expected $1.2- million shortage.

Superintendent of Schools Robert French said that he would prefer to have the money in hand before the district begins making budget decisions in mid-March. But he added: "Based on their track record I feel they will reach their goal (of $400,000)."

Beverly Hills has served as an example for other districts that were hit hard by Proposition 13 and squeezed by the California Supreme Court's Serrano decision, which mandated roughly equal state funding per student among school districts.

Both Culver City and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Districts sought advice from Beverly Hills on collecting money though the sale of ads in school calendars. Beverly Hills raised more than $150,000 last year from its calendar. "They are a strong model as far as fund-raising goes," Margaret Rose Shultz, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, said.

"Beverly Hills was one of the first, and they have been very willing to share ideas and assist other groups who have had a hard time," said Magi Young, coordinator for the California Consortium of Education Foundations, an organization representing 130 such groups statewide.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said that the increase in the number of foundations shows that support for public education is growing. "It makes a statement that we care for our schools when people band together for quality education," he added.

Some say that the aggressive style of fund-raising has resulted in pressure being put on people to give money.

Fischer recently told the school board that he has heard complaints about the foundation's style. "There have been rumblings in the community that we are too aggressive, that we are hurting other charities that want to raise money in the city," he said. "There is a happy medium out there--I think there is enough for everyone."

City Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro, a former school board member, said that ultimately the responsibility for raising funds should not rest with the district, but with Sacramento.

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