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Apodaca: District needs to discuss pooled funding

March 16, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

A column I wrote earlier this month regarding the disparity in fundraising among Newport-Mesa public schools touched a nerve with many readers, so I thought it worth revisiting the topic ("How can public schools compete for donations?" March 4).

I previously pointed out that public schools in wealthier neighborhoods in Newport Beach benefit from foundations and PTA activities that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, whereas some of the schools in lower socio-economic zones in Costa Mesa have very little access to outside fundraising.

My intent was not to criticize or cast blame, but to shed light on the donation gap, which has become a more sensitive and pertinent issue during these desperate times for California public schools. In many cases, private donations are used to pay for goods, services, and programs that have been decimated by budget cuts.

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I also noted that some other districts throughout the state have turned to a system of pooling privately raised funds, which are then redistributed based on perceived need.

The response to my column was mixed, but strongly felt. Some observers were critical of my focus on private donations in light of the fact that public funds aren't dispersed equally among schools. Also, it was pointed out that schools in more meager areas have access to certain grants and other means of extra support.

On the other hand, a good friend who is active in fundraising winced at my cavalier description of schools like Corona del Mar High School and their ability to "rake in" hefty donations.

Indeed, money doesn't just roll in on trucks and get dumped in the quad, even at the most successful fundraising schools. Dedicated teams of hardworking parents dig deep to mine every nugget possible, no easy task in these lean economic times. Mea culpa for my callous choice of words.

Mostly though, I heard from readers who expressed gratitude for bringing attention to the issue.

Some interesting feedback came from Rochelle Fanali, a California State PTA official and a parent in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

That district is similar to Newport-Mesa in that its schools are situated at different ends of the socio-economic spectrum. In a controversial move, it recently changed to a shared system, in which donations generated at all the schools are pooled. Some parents vehemently objected to the new fundraising mechanism.

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