School districts go hat in hand Fund-raisers: Foundations set up to handle private gifts are going in search of large donations from business and other sources to provide what regular budgets can't.

The Education Beat

November 30, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ADD ONE MORE major player to the list of colleges and private schools, cultural agencies and charities engaged in big-time fund raising: public school districts.

Montgomery County launched a capital campaign last week to raise money for the Montgomery County Public Schools Educational Foundation. County officials and corporate bigwigs mixed with educators at a swank reception Monday in Chevy Chase. No dollar amount was given as a campaign goal, but a spokesman predicted millions would be raised.

"We have the opportunity to really make a long-lasting and quality difference in the lives of young people by bringing the business community closer to schools," said Andre Fogarasi, an accounting firm executive and chairman of the foundation.

Montgomery isn't the first Maryland district to hit the fund-raising trail. Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties also have foundations. Typically, their tax-exempt accounts are carefully separated from the districts' operating budgets, and proceeds are used for "enrichment."

In Montgomery's case, that means advanced-study programs in high school, mentors for struggling students, after-school math and computer study, and other efforts not usually in the mainstream of the district's budget.

Baltimore County's foundation recently gave Cedarmere Elementary School $10,000 for an after-school tutorial program.

"We're trying to develop strategies for raising money," said Sharon Norman, school district manager of business and community relations, who wears another hat as executive director of the Baltimore County Public Schools Education Foundation.

Until now, school district foundations have engaged in little major fund raising. They've functioned as bank accounts for people who give money and equipment to schools -- or who include public schools in their wills.

Then there's Maryland's use of the quirky law of "escheat," which holds that if people die without wills or heirs, their estates revert to the school system in the district where they lived.

Now, however, the districts will be more aggressive in their fund raising, approaching wealthy people, businesses and foundations with hat in hand but without apology. "Foundation revenue can make that little bit of difference in quality," said Norman, who called her foundation "the best-kept secret in Baltimore County."

If it becomes a trend, such fund raising might reduce some of the pressures on PTAs at just the time they're trying to de-emphasize the need to plead. That, in turn, would be a relief to thousands of parents who feel compelled to buy cookies, candy bars and Christmas wrapping to support PTA budgets.

"We're not a fund-raising organization," said Linda J. Olszewski, president of the Baltimore County PTA Council. "We wouldn't have been around for more than 100 years if that were our sole purpose."

Olszewski said the PTA wants to "raise voices and not budgets" by becoming a major player in discourse on education policy -- putting in its 2 cents' worth about reading instruction in Maryland, for example.

Olszewski pointed to an irony in PTA fund raising: "It creates greater financial inequities than those that already exist." In other words, PTAs at wealthy schools can raise thousands of dollars and greatly enhance the life of a school. Thems that can't? Many schools in Baltimore have no functional PTAs.

One thing a district foundation can do is spread the wealth a little, giving grants to schools that don't have the capacity to raise big bucks on their own for educational enrichment.

Meyerhoff grants $5 million to Hillel Foundation

Joseph Meyerhoff, one of Baltimore's most generous modern--

benefactors, has been dead for 12 years, but he and his family keep giving.

The latest example is a $5 million grant from the Joseph Meyerhoff Memorial Trusts in Baltimore to the Washington- based Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

The endowment, the largest in Hillel's 75-year history, will allow the organization to expand programs at several hundred colleges and universities around the world, said Richard M. Joel, Hillel's president.

Joel described the Hillel approach as "sort of a cross between a Newman Club [for Catholic students] and a Third World or women's center." A typical use of the Meyerhoff grant, he said, might be to establish a campus study group "where people can engage in a dialectic of classical Jewish learning."

Many Jewish students are ignorant of the "Jewish story," Joel said. The Meyerhoff grant will help them "learn more about who we are, what we are, what our values are. We try to connect Jews to their story."

Worthy MSPAP rewards show many are not gaining

The rewards for good (and sustained) results in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program are worth writing home about. The cash bounties for "substantial and sustained" MSPAP progress between 1994 and last year totaled $2.75 million.

In all, 66 schools in 14 districts received awards ranging from $19,600 to $79,000.

Maryland wisely has required the schools to spend their well-gotten gains on school improvement, not for teacher pay bonuses. When Kentucky allowed bonuses in its reform program, all hell broke loose.

The Maryland performance awards have to be seen in perspective. Sixty-six of 1,075 schools were lauded for substantial improvement over the two years. This leaves aside 94 percent of the state's elementary and middle schools.

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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