When Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, was part of the track team at Fairfax High School in the 1960s, he ran on the same dirt track that current Fairfax High students use.
“The only difference when I was there was that the baseball diamond used to be on the northwest corner of the football field,” Yaroslavsky said. “And the track used to have a 220-yard straightaway.”
But on Tuesday night, despite a historic budget shortfall, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board approved plans, including $2.6 million in funding, to build a new track and football field at Fairfax High. To help supplement the LAUSD funds, Fairfax High also raised about $1 million from other public and private sources, and in the process established a new model for development in Los Angeles public schools.
The new athletic facilities, which include a rubberized track and synthetic field, are part of an ongoing effort to renovate the Fairfax High campus that also includes construction of a new grandstand, remodeling of the auditorium, and greening of the campus.
“When I first got here, a lot of things needed to be done to the physical plant,” said Fairfax High Principal Ed Zubiate. “The brain learns better in places that are comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. We wanted a school that physically reflected what we think we are on the inside, something the community could take pride in.”
After he compiled a list of projects that needed to be done — ranging from the new field to some simple repainting — Zubiate found all of the renovations would cost at least $13 million. This was more money than LAUSD would be able to offer, so Zubiate set out to raise money from the community. He asked the Greenway Arts Alliance — a nonprofit organization that uses volunteers from Fairfax High to run the Melrose Trading Post, a flea market held every Sunday in the Fairfax parking lot with proceeds going towards the school — to hire a full-time development director for Fairfax High, something no LAUSD school had done before.
“At that point, Greenway had already given more than three million dollars to the school, but nothing had really changed,” Zubiate said. “I asked them to support something that would help create real, systemic change, so in 20 years they could look back and really see a difference, and they were very open to that. Their idea was always to help the school become a healthy, important part of the community.”
Joyce Kleifield was brought in three years ago as the school’s development director, with her primary goal to find funding for the football field, which would cost an estimated $3.8 million. The school district had set aside $1 million for the project, if Fairfax High could raise at least that much from other sources.
“We met with everyone we could think of in the community,” Kleifield said. “It was just about building community support at first. The principal said if we built support, the money would come. The primary goal was to get people to believe in the school again.”
At first, members of the community offered help rather than funding—BRE Properties, for instance, helped Kleifield put together a pitch package, so she could show potential donors what the completed field would look like. As time went on, money started to come in as well. The Faro Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization founded, Kleifield said, by a Hollywood actor who prefers to remain anonymous, donated $500,000 towards the project. The local school district, also donated $250,000 of unallocated funds, while Yaroslavsky put $250,000 from his discretionary funds towards his alma mater.
“What I’ve asked the school to do as a condition of our involvement is to keep the field open during evenings and weekends,” Yaroslavsky said. “That way, the new field will be a great amenity for the community, as well as for the school.”
As Fairfax High started to raise more money on its own, and other projects for which LAUSD had set aside joint use funds began to fall through, the school district was able to offer more funding for the football field. Ultimately LAUSD put $2.6 million towards the project from voter-approved bond measures — money earmarked for development projects, which could not be used to help close the budget gap.
“I had never seen a school put a development director to work to go after dollars,” said Ana Lasso, director of Joint Use and Innovation Program Planning at LAUSD. “They spent so much time meeting with a lot of people to get donations, and we know this isn’t going to stop. They have a master plan that goes beyond the track and the field. I think it’s a fantastic model, the way they’re doing it. A lot of private schools operate this way.”
The Fairfax High development office is set to add two more staffers to help build support for future projects, and Zubiate hopes this development model can be reproduced around the district. He said he is already working with the principal of Hollywood High School to help build relationships with the surrounding community.
“This is my greatest accomplishment in thirty years with LAUSD,” Zubiate said. “It’s not just the money we raised, it’s the relationships we created. Proposition 13 kind of messed things up in terms of the community’s relationship to the school. Taxes used to go directly to the local schools. Now they go to the state, and the state decides how much the schools get. That means we have to get out there and sustain relationships with the community. And it’s not a one-way relationship. Whatever we can do to help the community, we want to do that.”
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