Parents & Fundraising

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Parents Taking Fundraising Into Their Own Hands
By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer

Sunday, May 22, 2005 - STUDIO CITY -- A limo ride to the "American Idol" final. A tour down Wisteria Lane with "Desperate Housewife" Teri Hatcher. A signed KISS guitar.

Such Hollywood must-haves prompted more than 600 guests to pony up well over $100,000 last weekend at a Carpenter Avenue Elementary School dinner-dance fundraiser auction.

Each year, Carpenter parents raise nearly $300,000 for school enrichment programs -- becoming fundraising kings among a growing number of Los Angeles parent booster clubs working to pay for extra teachers, computers and amenities.

While hundreds of thousands in federal Title 1 funds pay to enrich schools in needy areas, such money is not available to campuses like Carpenter, in high-income Studio City.

So parents have gone the extra mile to raise the money, hire more teachers and often manage their own school enrichment programs -- effectively creating a public-private school hybrid.

"This is not your run-of-the-mill school," said Jeryl Brivic, co-president of Parents for Carpenter, a nonprofit booster for the south-of-Ventura Boulevard public school.”

"The parent organization works very hard. We're almost like a corporation, but we're just mommies and daddies, that's all we are, struggling to get kids the education they deserve."

Parents and educators say it's no longer enough to be hands off with neighborhood schools. They require highly sophisticated fundraising.

As funding for schools has decreased, many parents say they've had enough with cut-rate physical education classes, limited dance and music programs and not enough computers to teach their kids.

So they've taken action themselves during a fundraising season that kicks off this month on CBS soundstages, banquet halls and elementary schoolyard fairs.

The result: Schools with strong parental boosters have increased test scores and jacked-up real estate values and become such badges of community pride that parents don't dream of sending children to private school.

"It is a sensitive issue. You don't want parents who can't afford to give to the school to feel bad about not giving funds," said Los Angeles school board member Marlene Canter, who will soon publish a how-to manual for parental booster clubs. "It's about getting involved.

"The point is that there are strategies that parents can use to create revenues for schools at a time of decreasing revenues from the state."

The manual on school fundraising could be penned by Parents for Carpenter.

Founded in 1986 to stem an exodus of children to private schools, PFC soon graduated from ringing doorbells for cash to a prestigious $75-a-plate dinner-dance and silent auction.

The 17th Annual "Carpenter Rocks!" bash at CBS Studio Center, advertised on banners up and down Ventura Boulevard, drew the cream of the Studio City entertainment industry, many of whom have donated Grammy tickets, Dodger dugout seats, autographed DVDs, or a week in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Last year, "Spongebob" voice Tom Kenny, a Carpenter parent, donated a personalized "Spongebob Squaredance CD."

"Absolutely the place to be," said Tony Lucente, president of the Studio City Residents Association, who was lauded for community service at this year's rock 'n' roll auction. "It was incredible -- everything from Laker tickets to a week with a personalized trainer to $100 ties.

"This is really about the kids, who are the future of Studio City, Los Angeles and the World."

The group has also mustered broad support from the business community -- including Coldwell Banker, Trader Joe's and Saller's International Body Shop -- many of whom hang "Proud sponsor of Carpenter Elementary School" signs on their cash registers.

It's also become the envy of other parent boosters who compete with some of the same Ventura Boulevard businesses for support.

"Our fundraising has, unfortunately, never yielded what Carpenter gets," said Beth Heinz, 36, whose nonprofit Parent Association of Colfax Elementary held its annual Colfax Avenue World Fair on Saturday at the Valley Village school.

"Carpenter is a money-making machine. They've got this down. Our World Fair made $50,000 last year and we're lucky to make $150,000 total (for the year)," she said. "If I'm resentful at anybody, it's the mismanagement I find at LAUSD, which causes us to bust our butts."

While school district officials are loathe to compare schools, there are marked differences between rich and poor area schools.

At Carpenter, 850 students subsist on $50,000 a year for school enrichment from the Los Angeles Unified School District and roughly $300,000 a year from the parents' group. The school is 75 percent white.

At Coldwater Canyon Elementary in North Hollywood, 1,200 students qualify for between $650,000 and $700,000 in federal Title I and bilingual funds, on top of state money that pays the basics. The school is 84 percent Latino, with 92 percent of students qualifying for free federal lunches.

"Because I have the money, I can purchase things at Coldwater that I couldn't at Carpenter," said Coldwater Canyon Principal Barbara Grey, who last year headed Carpenter Elementary.

To add luster to the standard Carpenter curriculum, the PFC hired a P.E. coach, two computer lab instructors, music, dance and class-reduction teachers and four classroom aides, of whom many report directly to the PFC board.

Parents have also bought computers, science equipment, teachers' supplies and paid to maintain the schoolyard grass.

"It sounds like we're raising a lot of money, but we're not compared to what Title I schools are getting," said Janet Loeb, former chair of PFC. "It's unfortunate we have to work so hard and the district and the state can't provide the same advantages."

Last year, Carpenter students scored 872 on the Advanced Placement Index, the highest in their LAUSD district. Coldwater Canyon, where many parents don't speak English, scored 719.

But while it has no computers or P.E. teacher, Coldwater Canyon has a part-time nurse, psychologist, music and orchestra teachers, plus funds for six-week sessions in art, music and drama. It also has a parent center and a bilingual coordinator, or aide.

At Coldwater Canyon, classes are smaller. Grant funds, unavailable at Carpenter, provide nutrition education.

"The parents don't have the means to have a booster club," Grey said. "They couldn't raise the kind of money at Carpenter. Instead (they) volunteer their time."

Though millions flow into the LAUSD from parent groups, the district was unable to furnish statistics on booster club contributions.

Many such clubs, including those at Sherman Oaks, Riverside, Dixie Canyon and Lanai Road elementaries, have joined the school enrichment bandwagon.

At Colfax Elementary, parents have paid for a Suzuki violin program, a math-music program in which every child gets a keyboard, and are funding a new science center. On Saturday, a hundred parents eagerly volunteered to work its World Fair.

"I was one of those parents who said, I'm not going to send my kids to public school. I was just sure it wasn't good enough," said Nora McGarry, co-president of the PACE booster club. "But Colfax is amazing.

"It is like a private school -- that's what we're doing, privatizing our public school."

Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730