Community

Schools foundation launches campaign, hopes to raise $500,000 for district

The Vashon Schools Foundation is gearing up for its third year of fundraising, once again hoping to raise $500,000 for the 1,500-student school district.

This year, however, the call for support won’t be a crisis-driven one, with teachers’ jobs hanging in the balance,  foundation board members said. Rather, they said, they’ll ask islanders to donate to a district that’s on solid footing financially but needs support to enhance and strengthen programs now in place.

Anne Atwell, a foundation board member, said the approach makes sense. “At some point, people just get tired of reacting to an emergency,” she said.

But it’s also an accurate message. “The school district’s in much better shape,” she said.

Michael Soltman, the district’s superintendent, said it’s unclear what will happen in the state Legislature, where education funding is once again a key issue. Currently, he added, state funds cover only 66 percent of the costs of educating students, with the gap filled by special levies and fundraising efforts.

But after a few years of belt-tightening and focused effort, Soltman said, the district now has a reserve fund to cover some of the vicissitudes of state funding.

“We’re not communicating the fire drill that we’re going to lay off staff,” he said. “We have enough in our fund balance to survive a year.”

At the same time, the school district wants to garner community support to realize some of the goals that come out of its strategic planning process, reduce class size, enhance college-prep courses and strengthen electives such as theater, music and the arts, Atwell said.

“The foundation would like to team with the district to think ahead and not only sustain what we have but also focus on enhancing our programs and making them stronger,” she said.

For the last two years, the foundation has tried to raise $500,000, falling short both times. In 2011, it raised $440,000, said Donna Nespor, the foundation’s coordinator; last year, it raised $436,000.

The number of parents with children in the schools who donated to the campaign, however, has increased. And foundation officials say they believe there’s a good chance the campaign will reach the $500,000 mark this year.

Soltman is particularly hopeful that community involvement in the strategic planning project will help islanders feel more connected to the district and more invested in its success. Meetings centered on the process have drawn several parents and community members, he said.

“There’s a real spirit of renewal in the school district,” he said. “So I think we’ll have greater community support than we’ve ever had.”

 

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