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Schools once again seek to fill budget gap

With just weeks left in its annual fundraising campaign, the Vashon Schools Foundation hopes to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars more to sustain district programs.

The group kicked off its campaign March 1 and so far has garnered $133,000 in pledged support, including $55,000 from island businesses. Fundraising will continue in the coming weeks to help the foundation reach its $500,000 target, according to Donna Nespor, the nonprofit’s administrative coordinator, who said she is confident the community will step up and provide the support, as it has in past years.

“I feel the momentum is picking up, and we will be able to reach the goal,” she said.

When the district’s financial picture was at its most dire a few years ago, Superintendent Michael Soltman announced staff layoffs and program cuts that would take place if sufficient funds were not raised by the newly formed foundation. Now, however, while funding from the state is still insufficient, the foundation’s message is not one of a fiscal emergency, but one of maintaining the district’s staffing levels and programs.

“We are trying to run a more positive campaign based on a common community commitment to sustaining the education we value here,” Soltman said.

With this trust in community donations, next year’s budget is being rolled out accordingly.  But Soltman noted he is concerned that people may not fully understand the importance of continuing to support the schools, even when the district isn’t declaring an emergency.

“It’s absolutely essential,” he said.

In fact, he said, were it not for belief in the foundation’s success, he would be proposing cuts now in staffing, the arts and advanced placement classes at the high school. If the money is not raised this spring, Soltman said, he will look to cutting supplies, materials and custodial services and then to dipping into the reserve fund, which may require deeper cuts next year.

Steve Ellison, who serves on both the

school district and foundation boards, said it’s clear that money raised supports vital programs. What is less obvious, he said, is that the work of the foundation and the trust in the community’s support also allows for school officials to budget in a much more efficient way.

“With the support of the foundation, it has allowed us to have a much more stable baseline,” he said.

The turmoil that proposed cuts create carries a cost, he noted, and, naturally, morale is much higher when pink slips aren’t given out and programs aren’t slated for elimination. In all, Ellison, said, the effect of the donations goes far beyond their actual monetary value.

“From my standpoint, it’s just amazing what the impact is,” he said. “You can’t get a better return on your money.”

So far, of the roughly 700 families with students in the district, just 60 have pledged some amount of support, Nespor said. During the first two weeks of May, volunteers from each grade will call families who have not donated and ask them to consider giving. The campaign will close on May 15, when the Seattle Foundation holds its annual Give Big event and adds to each contribution for the participating nonprofits.

Ideally, Nespor said, as in years past, the foundation would like to see families give $1 a day per child in the school system, or $365 per child. Not all families can afford that, and she encourages people to give what they can.

Last year, Soltman noted, about 40 percent of school families participated, and he would like to see more chip in this time.

Nespor concurred.

“We would like everyone to contribute,” she said.

Members of the foundation are reaching out through a variety of means this year, Nespor said, including hosting a tour of the new Vashon High School for island business owners earlier this month. The tour, sponsored by the Vashon Pharmacy and Skanska and organized by the Vashon Chamber of Commerce, helped bring in considerable support from the business community, she said.

The foundation has also produced videos of island teachers Jenny Granum, John Rees, Harris Levinson and Jenny Wilke in support of the campaign. Two of them are on the foundation’s Facebook and website and have been sent out in emails as well. Two more will follow in the coming weeks.

And, per tradition, at the four-way intersection in town, the foundation has placed a fundraising thermometer showing how much has been raised;  it will remain there until the end of May.

Both Nespor and Soltman stress that for many families, choosing to give a recurring donation might be the easiest option and that $30 a month from the majority of families in the district would enable the district to reach its goal.

“If everyone does a little, we’ll get there,” Soltman said.

 

To donate, send a check to VIPSF at  P.O. Box 481 or see www.vashonschoolsfoundation.org.

To donate in the Give Big event, see www.seattlefoundation.org. To be matched by a percentage of Seattle Foundation funds, donations need to be made via the Vashon School Foundation’s online profile through the Seattle Foundation website on May 15.

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