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Businesses Take on Bigger Role at Schools : Education: Lean times and slim budgets force districts to rely more on corporate sponsors for everything from supplies to career advice.


In an attempt to deal with larger demands and fewer dollars, Westside schools are turning to the area's business sector for everything from school supplies to career advice.

Although such partnerships took hold in the Westside little more than a decade ago as a way for students to gain practical skills through real-world experience, the pacts are now seen as a way to supplement everyday education.

"I would like to see a real high-quality vocational program and apprenticeship opportunities in this community," said Patricia Hoffman, school board president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Distict. "(But) while there are unmet needs, we will need to continue to pursue financial enhancements to the district (from businesses)."

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District accelerated its "Adopt-a-School" program during the last year and now has corporate sponsors for all 12 of its Santa Monica-based schools. Roosevelt Elementary School celebrated its recent adoption by First Federal Bank of California at a ceremony last Thursday. The district is also working on getting sponsors for its two Malibu-based schools.

And in Beverly Hills, school district officials plan to begin a formal school partnership program to supplement a pared-down school budget.

The Santa Monica-Malibu district had its budget cut by $400,000, because of a state bill that shifts more spending burdens to localities, said Santa Monica City Manager John Jalili. And Beverly Hills schools are suffering from the loss of $7 million in expected state funding over the last seven years, said Hali Wickner, a spokeswoman for the Beverly Hills Unified School District. "We have terrible needs," she said. "We definitely need school-business partnerships."

More cuts in education spending are expected from Sacramento for next year. Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed budget called for a $2-billion cut in funding over an 18-month period.

But while education budgets seem to shrinking, the participation of corporations in schooling has increased drastically during the last decade not just in the Westside, but nationwide. Schools in San Diego, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., also have teamed up with business.

Locally, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been a national leader in pairing the classroom and the boardroom since about 1978, and has linked about 90% of its Westside schools with local businesses, said Wayne Carlson, director of Los Angeles' Adopt-a-School program. Culver City has a successful program too, although it has yet to get partners for all of its schools, said spokeswoman Joy Jacobs.

During the last year, Santa Monica in particular has stepped up its "Adopt-a-School" program, where businesses such as Gilette/Papermate and First Federal Bank of California have made formal partnerships with local schools. The partnerships provide money (for teachers' aides), employees (to serve as tutors and mentors) and equipment (such as notebooks and computers). Added to $1.5 million in funding this year and a proposed $2 million in funding for next year from the city of Santa Monica, district officials say the community--businesses and citizens--are keeping local schools afloat during bad financial times.

"We're extremely lucky to be in Santa Monica, where the community has agreed to attach itself and where the City Council sees youth as a budget priority," said school board President Hoffman.

Gilette/Papermate has promised to contribute $11,000 to its partnership with Lincoln Middle School and First Federal is still planning a budget for its adoption of Roosevelt Elementary School, said Karen Johnson, co-chair of a Santa Monica Area Chamber of Commerce task force on school partnerships. Other local companies ranging from real estate brokers to think tanks are donating personnel hours for career lectures and tutoring.

The district and the chamber last year formed a task force to see that every local school gets a major corporate sponsor. A meeting of the schools' principals and corporate sponsors is planned for June 6 to work out next year's game plan for each campus. School and chamber officials, however, say they don't intend to create a partnership agenda or rigid rules of participation for fear of asking too much of the businesses.

"We made a decision a few years ago that the more structured you make it, the more difficult it is for business to participate," said Johnson. "What we've said to businesses is, 'Anything you can do for the schools that is mutually beneficial is OK.' "

At the other end of the partnership trend is a community of business operators that is concerned about the quality of job applicants that public schools are turning out. In a chamber brochure designed to attract other business partners to the district, First Federal Chairman William S. Mortensen said: "It is a wise investment to support quality education today rather than to pay for the results of poor education later."

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