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Schools fundraising drive nets $446,000

A sign at the intersection of Bank Road and the highway monitors the fundraising campaign’s progress. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
A sign at the intersection of Bank Road and the highway monitors the fundraising campaign’s progress.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

Vashon Island School District won’t lose a single teaching position next year, thanks to a whirlwind fundraising effort that raised more than $446,000 in the last six weeks.

School district officials had proposed a budget that would see seven full-time equivalent employees lose their jobs. Now, only one custodian will be laid off, said Superintendent Michael Soltman on Friday, a day after the school district officially closed its aggressive fundraising campaign.

“All teachers are being restored,” Soltman said. “I’m just delighted by the way our community pulled together to provide this funding. I think it shows that we’re committed to having quality schools, and we’ll do what we can to take care of that.”

Without the donated funds, the school district had planned to cut several electives at the high school, half the district’s preschool program and some of the counselors or librarians at all three schools.

But thanks to a cadre of volunteers who banded together to seek out donations large and small from Island families, individuals, businesses and off-Island families, the district nearly achieved its ambitious fundraising goal of $500,000 in just six weeks.

The district continues to accept money through PayPal and check donations; some, like fundraiser and donor Martin Koenig, are sure that the $500,000 benchmark will soon be reached.

“The generosity of people on this Island has been quite astounding,” he said. “If those funds were not raised, the implications would have been very serious. ... The advanced placement classes, the chemistry, the physics, the advanced math, the four years of a foreign language, the debate program — that’s what we have here that’s so appealing.”

Classes at Vashon High School that were restored thanks to the community fundraising drive include:

• Creative writing

• Debate

• Percussion ensemble

• Shakespeare

• Theater arts I and II

• Musical theater production.

At McMurray, drama and leadership courses were restored, and science class sizes will remain the same size they were this year, rather than expand by several students per section.

Chautauqua’s art

program was re-stored, as a music and art specialist slated to be laid off will return to the school next year.

And Chautauqua’s preschool, a four-day-a-week program that serves students with special needs alongside normally developing children, had been slated to reduce to a half-day program, rather than one with both morning and afternoon sessions. But it, too, will retain the same schedule it had last year because of the money raised.

Across the board, teachers, school district officials and parents were thrilled that some of the core educational values they hold dear will be upheld at Vashon schools next year.

“I’m so excited — I was laid off, and I was told yesterday that I am going to be brought back,” said teacher Joleen McCauley on Friday. She used to teach middle-school humanities, but was moved to kindergarten last year. She’ll return to the middle school in the fall.

“I think it’s such a united front for the community that we did this,” she added.

Board chair Laura Wishik, who is also the mother of two children, said the results of the community fundraising drive are “heartwarming.” She credited Soltman for carrying out the drive.

“This means that we can continue some of the programs that people really value and care about,” Wishik siad. “I think it’s fantastic. It means people really care about education on Vashon.”

At a special school board meeting held on Thursday, July 1, Wishik brought up an issue that she said has been perplexing some community members. Why, she asked, despite careful nips and tucks to the budget, has the overall school district budget grown $900,000 from 2009-10 to 2010-11?

The answer, she learned from Soltman, is a complex one. The two biggest components of the budget’s growth are out of officials’ control. Employee-related costs like “step increases” — where teachers are paid more for each year of employment — and benefit cost increases make up a large portion of the budget increase.

A seemingly technical budget shuffle makes up another large chunk of the increase. Certain items and improvements have been budgeted out of the district’s general fund, but will eventually be reimbursed by the district’s capital fund, Soltman said.

“I think it’s critical for both the board and the public, when they see in tight economic times a nearly $1 million increase, to understand why,” Wishik said.

Soltman and staff plan to give a presentation on the budget increase to the school board at its next meeting on July 22.

Looking ahead, Soltman and others are grateful for the nearly $500,000 donated that will be used to keep valued teachers in the classroom.

Still, Soltman added, the fundraising doesn’t end now.

“There’s still this gap until the Legislature meets its Constitutional duty to fully fund education,” he said. “Our goal should be to raise $500,000 to $600,000 annually for the next few years.”

A team of Islanders is working to create a Vashon schools foundation that would manage a fund off which the school district could draw interest, he said. He expects the foundation to be up and running within a year.

“Similar to other communities, ... we could have annual fundraising campaigns and events,” Soltman said. “The foundation board would have to determine what that would be.”

Schools could win money in contest

Vashon Island School District could win up to $250,000 from Chase Bank if people vote for the school district in a Facebook contest. Visit apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/

and vote for “Vashon Island Schools Foun-dation.” Islanders have until Monday, July 12, to vote. The top 200 vote-getters will be awarded $20,000 or more, and the overall winner will receive $250,000. Winners will be announced July 13.

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