With cuts at risk, schools foundation extends deadline

Pedestrians in Vashon town pass the schools foundation thermometer, which on Monday showed the nonprofit had raised $250,000. The foundation hopes to bring in at least $100,000 more.  - Natalie Johnson
Pedestrians in Vashon town pass the schools foundation thermometer, which on Monday showed the nonprofit had raised $250,000. The foundation hopes to bring in at least $100,000 more.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson

The Vashon Schools Foundation has extended its fundraising deadline, hoping to raise at least $100,000 more in order to stave off painful cuts at the school district.

“We’re really happy with how people have stepped up. We just need them to keep stepping up,” said Zabette Macomber, the foundation’s board president.

With cuts to high school electives and elementary school class sizes hanging in the balance, foundation volunteers are now asking that all school district families consider giving and are promoting an anonymous match now offered up by two school district families.

“It’s not daunting if everyone pitches in,” Macomber said.

The foundation — which aimed to bring in $500,000 this spring to once again supplement the Vashon Island School District’s budget  — originally hoped to wrap up its campaign last Wednesday, promoting one last fundraising push on the Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG day.

And the foundation did well during GiveBIG, board members say, bringing in about $80,000 in donations —  half of which had been pledged earlier — and earning about $8,000 in matching funds from the Seattle Foundation. In fact, the foundation ran the ninth most successful fundraiser that day, sharing the top-10 GiveBIG earners list with large regional organizations such as the The Seattle Public Library Foundation and Northwest Harvest.

“I’m still surprised, especially when you look at who else is on that list. … We’re in big company,” Macomber said.

Despite the successful day, the foundation’s total still stands at about $250,000. The total is far from where it needs to be, Macomber said, largely because significant donations haven’t been rolling in as they have in past years. Several major donors who have sustained the foundation through previous campaigns simply haven’t been able to give this time, something Macomber said was understandable — several of them, for instance, are now sending children to college — but hurts the nonprofit’s bottom line. About $140,000 that normally comes from big givers is missing this time.

“That’s the nature of the beast,” Macomber said. “We have people who … have been incredibly generous, but now they need to pay for college.”

While volunteers would love to raise around $450,000 as they have the past few years, she said, they need to bring in at least $350,000 by the end of the month to avoid cuts to district programs.

Should $100,000 more not come in, the district likely would not fill several of its open teaching positions, said Superintendent Michael Soltman, resulting increased class sizes at the elementary level and fewer elective options at the high school.

“We’d have to go back to more core classes and fewer elective options,” he said. “We’d reduce the AP program; I’d hoped to expand it.”

On the heels of news that the foundation had fallen short last week, two school district families offered up matching donations for any funds that come in over the next several weeks. Soltman said the families, who asked to remain anonymous, are prepared to match 20 percent of what the foundation brings in, up to $20,000.

“If people need an incentive, we had GiveBIG, and now we have GiveBIG two,” Macomber said with a chuckle.

“These guys are realizing they need to step up and keep it going,” she added. “To me, that is extremely generous.”

Both Macomber and Soltman said it’s clear now, more than ever, that the the foundation needs to develop a wide base of families that donate, rather than relying on a small number of large donors.

As the foundation works to move away from a campaign based on a funding crisis and promote one based on school district sustainability, it’s still asking that all school district families consider giving one dollar per student per day, or any amount they can.

“Committing to 10 or 20 or 30 dollars a month makes a huge difference,” Soltman said.

Macomber said she was anxious but confident that the community would come through in the end.

“This year I think we’ll just keep going till the last minute,” she said. “If everyone pitches in, we’re set.”

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