Business community unites to support school funding drive

Vashon’s business community — from the largest grocery store to a small retail shop — has stepped forward to support the Vashon Island School District’s ambitious fundraising campaign.

All told, businesses have kicked in more than $110,000 in the last two weeks, bringing the drive’s overall total to $338,000, said Superintendent Michael Soltman, who called the district’s new partnership with the business community “just the beginning.”

“It’s looking really good,” Soltman said. “This business partnership is going to grow and grow.”

The gifts include $10,000 from Vashon Thriftway, $8,000 from Vashon Pharmacy, $8,000 from Island Lumber and $5,000 from The Hardware Store Restaurant, as well as smaller gifts from Trigg Insurance, Williams Heating, The Little House, True Value, Vashon Physical Therapy and others. 

Sawbones has also given a substantial gift, Soltman said, and Ray Aspiri’s Seattle-based

company, Tempress Tech-nologies, has donated $12,500.

In several instances, the donations represent the largest single gift the company has ever given.

Dave Willingham, who has co-owned Vashon Pharmacy with Tom Langland for 20 years, said the store’s contribution is not only its largest ever, it also comes at a time when their business has declined for the first time as well — largely due to the rise of mail-order pharmacies.

“This is probably the time it hurts the most,” Willingham said. 

He and Langland decided to donate to the campaign, he added, because he believes it will ultimately help the locally owned pharmacy. Strong schools, he said, “are good for the Island, which make them good for the pharmacy.”

Business owners said they felt compelled to donate not only because they’re concerned about the cash-strapped school district, but also because Soltman has pledged — as part of this new partnership — to make sure the district buys goods on-Island as much as possible.

Earl Van Buskirk, owner of Island Lumber, said he’s had a couple of lunches with Soltman to discuss the school district’s situation. His gift of $8,000 also represents his largest single donation since he bought the lumber and hardware store in 1988 — a decision he made in part because he was encouraged by Soltman’s pledge to buy locally. 

“Quite frankly, with the business climate being what it is, it would have been easier for me to have given a lot less,” said Van Buskirk, who graduated from Vashon High School.

But, he added, “If in fact the school system and the employees of the school system and all the families realize the importance of shopping at home, that could make quite a difference. ... There hasn’t been a lot of recriprocation in the past to purchase from the local businesses. But I think Michael is turning that around.”

Soltman’s effort to forge stronger ties with the business community began a few weeks ago at a breakfast hosted by Melinda Sontgerath, owner of The Hardware Store Restaurant; 18 businesspeople came, Soltman said, an encouraging turnout for a first gathering.

Since then, he’s met with several business owners individually, underscoring what he sees as the district and the business community’s shared future.

“Both are at risk,” he said. “The business community is at risk financially because of the recession, and we’ve been at risk financially for a couple of years now. And more and more, Vashon is on its own, taking care of its business community, its social services, its schools.”

In meetings, he’s pledged to do what he can to ensure that local businesses are able to tap into the $47.7 million construction project that’s about to get under way at the high school. The district, he added, has often shopped at Costco, a practice it will discourage. Soltman and other top school officials will also make a point of reminding parents about the vital role businesses play on the Island. 

“That’s something we can do a whole lot better — raise the consciousness among our parent community about how much we depend on our business community,” he said.

Bettie Edwards, owner of The Little House, said she’s encouraged by the sense of unity she’s seeing on the Island and the budding partnership between business owners and the district. She’s also begun dropping a quarter into a jar on her counter each time a customer uses cash or a check rather than a credit card, which costs her in bank fees. That money is getting passed onto the district.

“It’s a small amount, but it shows we’re all participating. We’re doing what we can do,” she said.


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