So far, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) efforts to raise money this year have failed. In June, voters shot down the proposed parcel tax, which would have raised property taxes to help fund the school system; and this week, California again lost out on federal Race to the Top education funding.
At Fairfax High School, however, administrators are pursuing other ways to raise funds. Starting this fall, Fairfax High will boast a development office with three full-time and two part-time staff members, all devoted to raising money for the school and strengthening ties to the local community.
“Private schools and schools in more affluent communities have personnel dedicated to fundraising and connecting with the community,” Fairfax High Principal Ed Zubiate said. “I thought we needed to do that as well. Especially in a big city, it’s important to get support from the local community for the local school.”
In 2007, with financial support from the Greenway Arts Alliance, Zubiate hired a part-time development officer, Joyce Kleifield. During the subsequent three years, Kleifield helped bring in $15 million from a variety of sources, including school district bonds, government grants, and $2 million in privately raised funds. The money has paid for a number of capital improvements to the school, including a new auditorium, and a new football field and grandstand, which should be completed by next fall.
Because of the success of the capital campaign, Greenway Arts Alliance, a local nonprofit that raises funds through the Melrose Trading Post, a flea market held every Sunday in the Fairfax High parking lot where Fairfax students volunteer, agreed to fund the expansion of the development office. Kleifield will now serve as director of development, while one full-time staff member will work as a grant writer and another will oversee alumni relations.
Kleifield said her goal was to generate $1 million a year for the school and eventually develop an endowment, and to utilize the assets in the community.
“We’re a big property here,” Kleifield said. “We have a lot to offer, with meeting space, production space. We’re constantly looking for opportunities to serve the community, and we want to get kids involved in all those activites as well.”
Now, with the capital improvements fully funded, Zubiate has turned his attention towards instruction in and out of the classroom. The development office has partnered with local businesses like CBS, which helped fund improvements to the auditorium, and where students will be able to undertake internships. In addition, Zubiate is hoping to fund paid professional development for teachers.
Zubiate said he’d like to use the Washington D.C. school system, which uses private funding to offer higher salaries to teachers who go through non-required professional training programs. He said $2,500 a year for each teacher could slowly help improve the school, $5,000 per teacher could drive dramatic improvements, and $10,000 per teacher could make Fairfax High one of the best schools in the country. Currently, Fairfax High School has about 80 full-time classroom teachers.
“It’s very ambitious, I don’t know if we can do it,” Zubiate said. “They would be much more willing to commit not just to training, but to help create that training. That ten thousand would be an incredible incentive.”
One of the potential obstacles to the plan is the school district, which Zubiate is unsure will allow him to offer financial incentives to teachers.
“We’re working with people at the highest levels, trying to loosen things up and have them look at things differently,” Zubiate said. “They tell us to teach outside the box, but they won’t let us out of the box. We’ve gotten great help from the district, but we’re disappointed that they haven’t said, ‘What an idea! Why can’t we do that?’”
In the past, LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, 4th District, has said that Greenway Arts Alliance is one of the programs he wanted to emulate around the district, but he also expressed doubt that all schools have the kind of resources in their areas that Fairfax High does.
Jack Kyser, founding economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, said the UC system, which has recently had its state funding cut, could provide a role model for public schools trying to raise private revenue during the budget crisis. However, he added that private fundraising would increase inequality within large school districts.
“In districts like LAUSD, that have everything from economically very distressed areas to high income areas, you’re going to have inequality in the funds schools in different areas can raise,” Kyser said.
However, Pierson Blaetz, co-founder of the Greenway Arts Alliance, said he hoped Fairfax High could serve as a model for how, Title I schools, where the majority of students come from families living below the poverty line, can raise money.
“What’s happened at Fairfax is unusual for a Title I public school,” Blaetz said. “In more affluent areas, and at private schools, fundraisers bring in a lot of money, but schools in these areas have a hard time bringing in additional dollars other than what the government provide, because the parent base doesn’t have the time or finances to support the school. We have to find ways to connect these schools with their communities, and we’ve been able to accomplish that at Fairfax.”
Zubiate also expressed hope that the work in the development office will leave an enduring impact at Fairfax High.
“This is going to be my legacy,” Zubiate said. “This is the thing that I’m leaving Fairfax on, and I have a great lady helping me, and that’s Joyce.”
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