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Schools Struggle to Raise Funds for Smaller Classes

Parents at 10 Capistrano Unified campuses are still seeking donations to keep the third-grade cap. They must come up with $40,000 by July 15.

June 21, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

In the struggle to turn Capistrano Unified's have-nots into haves, some elementary schools are teetering on the edge.

For the last few weeks, parents across the south Orange County district have been trying to raise enough money to save smaller classes for third-graders at their individual campuses in what state education officials have called an unprecedented school-by-school effort.

So far, 15 campuses have collected the needed $40,000 -- or $20,000 for those opening in the fall. And seven of the eight district campuses that serve large numbers of poor children plan to use their federal funds to keep classes at 20 or fewer students. The money will be used to pay for additional teachers, and may keep as many as 60 from being furloughed.

But for 10 other schools, the last few days have been a study in frustration, as parents try to inform potential donors about the situation and collect checks in the same breath to meet a July 15 deadline.

"I have no life but raising money," said Karrie Serklew, a parent at Marblehead Elementary in San Clemente. "I'm missing sleep, missing reading with my kids, and my husband is just so frustrated with me."

It saddens her that any child wouldn't get the benefit of more teacher attention because parents at their school aren't able to raise the money.

With 20 or fewer students per teacher, she said, younger children stand a better chance of learning core math and reading skills by the time they get to the upper grades.

But in an effort to shave $22 million from its $300-million budget in the coming school year because of state budget cuts, Capistrano Unified trustees sliced $1 million for the third-grade class reduction at their May 12 meeting. They did, however, vote to keep smaller class sizes for kindergarten through second grade.

Since then, Serklew has distributed fliers at dozens of San Clemente businesses and attended City Council and real estate agent meetings every night, dragging her two daughters, ages 4 and 6, with her everywhere.

By day's end Thursday, her school had $9,800 in pledges, about $30,000 short of the goal and $10,000 away from being able to at least restore a half-day of smaller classes for Marblehead's third-graders.

Everywhere she's been, Serklew said, nearly all the responses have been the same.

"They're so sorry this is happening, and the kids are lucky to have people like me out there," she said. "But nobody's willing to write a check."

Capistrano district officials said that while campus-by-campus fund-raisers do present inequities, they felt it was their obligation to allow parents to support any worthy program at their school as long as it helped all students on campus, not just the donors' children.

Word that parents could raise funds didn't reach Castille Elementary in Mission Viejo until Monday. Since then, a group of 20 parents has been working overtime to save their smaller third-grade classes.

They have since gathered $18,500, all but $1,000 of it from parent donations.

Michelle Mathison, who will have three children at Castille in the fall, said parents have been placed on task forces to hit up businesses, plan a car wash, ask parents for $287 per family and finalize plans for an auction and bingo night to be held Thursday. Services to be auctioned include tutoring by Castille teachers.

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