Jerry Lewis won't be there, but a state Department of Education superintendent will join dozens of students, parents and administrators of the Irvine Unified School District this week for the county's first telethon for public schools.
With the state cutting educational funding and Irvine voters last year turning down a supplemental school property tax, the school district's nonprofit foundation will try a three-hour local telethon Tuesday to raise money for music and other programs the district has had to consider cutting to balance its budget.
School officials hope the telethon will prompt residents to tune out "Hard Copy" and "Rescue 911" and dig deep for a good cause.
Cable subscribers in the Irvine area can tune in from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday on Community Cablevision's Channel 3, which is reserved for community programming.
Since no Orange County school district has ever used a telethon to raise money, no one is certain how residents will respond, said Elizabeth Thomas, executive director of the nonprofit Irvine Education Foundation.
"Quite frankly, this is going to be a shot in the dark," Thomas said.
Organizers of the telethon are so wary of not getting many phoned-in donations that they chose to shun the typical telethon tote board that tallies the money pledged every few minutes.
The Irvine Education Foundation hit upon the idea of a telethon to publicize education's financial straits to the entire community, not just to parents with children in the schools, Thomas said.
The 10-year-old foundation raised about $50,000 last year in private support. The money buys one-time supplies, such as sheet music, and funds individual grants to teachers so they can offer programs and equipment the district can no longer afford to buy.
Tuesday's telethon will feature music and six panel discussions, which will highlight the state budget, a statewide initiative to allow state funding of private schools, and "drugs, gangs, sex and other things that give parents nightmares," Thomas said.
Panel members will include district administrators, teachers, parents, students, City Council members and other local elected officials.
Telethons are known mostly for raising money for research into diseases and for public television stations. But the growing need for more money has prompted three other school districts in California to hold telethons, according to a statewide consortium of school foundations.
Telethons have been held in South Pasadena, San Diego County and Saratoga, near San Jose. Last year's telethon for the Coronado Unified School District raised $130,000, said Ginger Cox, executive director of the Coronado Schools Foundation.
"A telethon is wonderful because it's a (public relations) tool in itself," said Magi Young, coordinator for the San Jose-based California Consortium of Education Foundations. "They let people know what's going on in the schools as well as what the needs are."
Greg Smith, Irvine Unified school board president, said the telethon idea is an encouraging and creative addition to fund-raising.
"We're at the point now in education that funding is such a critical issue. The normal route we've taken--cookie sales and jog-a-thons--don't work to raise the kinds of funds we need to raise on a districtwide basis," Smith said. "(A telethon) just may be different enough to spark the public's interest."