Schools foundation fundraises to fill budget gap and more


The Vashon Schools Foundation is again launching an ambitious fundraising campaign, hoping to raise $500,000 in pledges both to fill the school district’s budget shortfall and fund other badly needed items such as textbooks and the expansion of alternative programs.

The fundraiser is a deviation from years past, when the foundation raised money to bridge the Vashon School District’s wide budget gap, as much as $450,000 some years, and in doing so saved teaching positions and classes.

This year the school district is in better financial shape, due to gradually increasing funding from the state and tight management of its budget. Both district and foundation officials say they’d like to now direct fundraising dollars to needs that have been ignored during hard financial times.

“Even though we’re not in a crisis, there are some pretty important things that have gone unfunded,” said Donna Nespor, the Vashon Schools Foundation’s paid coordinator.

Fundraising appeals that recently went out to all Vashon homes outlined the foundation’s funding priorities in three tiers.

Included in tier one is filling the district’s estimated budget shortfall for next year, $150,000. According to foundation materials, the district still receives less funding per student than it did in 2008.

“We need about $150,000 so that we don’t have to cut anything,” said Superintendent Michael Soltman.

Also included in tier one is $25,000 to expand the district’s preschool program and about $140,00 to purchase new history text books for the high school and math textbooks at the elementary school.

Soltman explained that schools should adopt new textbooks every five to seven years, but the Vashon district has fallen behind. It’s been over 10 years since new math textbooks have been adopted, he said, and high school history books are 18 to 20 years old. New state standards have also been adopted for math, he noted, making it mandatory that new textbooks be purchased.

“The entire practice of teaching math and standards of teaching math have changed,” he said.

Listed under priorities two and three for donations are additional textbook adoptions and added funding for programs that target struggling students and nontraditional learners, including $25,000 for StudentLink, $15,000 for the ELL program, $5,000 for a summer school program and $5,000 for emotional support, substance abuse and suicide prevention programming.

Steve Ellison, a school board member who is also a non-voting member of the foundation’s board, said such programs have either been downsized in the past or have never received the funding they should have. Other foundation funding priorities include new science equipment for the high school, added professional development opportunities for teachers and a part-time science specialist at the elementary school.

“This is almost the difference between no child left behind and every child set up for success,” Ellison said. “Really what we’re trying to do is make sure every kid is set up for success.”

A short campaign will officially kick off next Monday, April 21, and foundation members hope to round out fundraising  on May 6, a day when the Seattle Foundation will partially match all donations made through its GiveBIG day program. Last year the foundation brought in $87,640 on the GiveBIG day.

“We’re going to make a push for people to think about it and act on it in these two weeks,” Nespor said.

The schools foundation has struggled at times to bring in pledges — often extending its fundraising efforts for weeks after its deadline — and has never raised the full $500,000 it sets as a goal each year. It raised the most in 2010 and 2011, when potential cuts were outlined by the district and layoff notices issued to teachers. Last year, when the school’s budget gap was an estimated $350,000, it brought in about $340,000 in pledges over an extended fundraiser. The foundation accepts donations and pledges year-round.

This year, Nespor says the foundation board hopes donors will be compelled by the specific funding requests outlined. The foundation has already reached out to the business community and again is hoping to see broader support from school district families. Last year, 30 percent of families gave.

“We’re not asking for a lot of extra stuff; this is pretty basic stuff,” Nespor said. “I think people will understand it’s important. If we’re able to do it, these are important tools for our kids.”

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