Auburn Education Foundation gives local schools a boost

Auburn Union, fallen on hard times, relies on volunteer support
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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Auburn symphony goes to school: A $2,000 grant sent the Auburn Symphony to play at Auburn Elementary School, Rock Creek School, Skyridge School and E.V. Cain Charter Middle School.

Physics ramps and tracks: Three $1,000 grants bought equipment for hands-on physics experiments for 270 students at E.V. Cain.

Owl pellet study: Two $250 grants afforded owl pellets and other science materials for students at Auburn Elementary.

Keep the librarian: Four sustaining grants of $2,000 apiece, or $8,000 total, allow E.V. Cain, Auburn Elementary, Skyridge and Rock Creek to keep their libraries open every Friday.

Earth mural: A $500 grant allowed Skyridge third graders to create a mural of the ecosystem of the American River Canyon

Expensive ELMO: eight $1,000 grants allowed Auburn Elementary, Skyridge and Rock Creek teachers to replace old projectors with document cameras from ELMO.

For local schools struggling to maintain programs in the face of budget woes, the Auburn Education Foundation continues to provide a valuable leg of support.

Formed in 1985 as an answer to funding cuts in Auburn Union School District, the foundation is a volunteer non-profit organization that serves Alta Vista Education Center, Auburn Elementary School, Rock Creek School, Skyridge School and E.V. Cain Charter Middle School. The district received more than 40 grants totaling $32,000 courtesy of the foundation last year, ranging from $250 to $2,000. These afforded books, ramps and tracks for physics classes, document cameras from ELMO, science class dissection specimens and other materials the school would have gone without.

Cathy Sale, one of the foundation’s grant committee members and a teacher at Rock Creek School, said the foundation typically awards about $15,000 per grant cycle, of which there are two a year, directly to teachers for educational materials. She said a large chunk of that – $2,000 per school per year – has kept librarians on staff one day a week, though this is a rare exception to compensate for budget cuts.

“We have to walk a very fine line in terms of funding people, because we strongly feel we just want to be a support to the district, and if they start depending on us for aides and then we don’t have the money, we don’t want to be in that position,” she said. “It’s more things that will support you in the classroom that the district can’t afford anymore, like the books and the document cameras.”

President Julann Brown said the foundation is largely made up of retired Auburn Union teachers, all unpaid volunteers, with representatives from each school. She said most of the foundation’s money comes from a membership drive that asks $10 from each of its members, of which there are more than 100. Other primary funding sources include donations from service clubs like Kiwanis, spring and fall dinners, individual donors from the community and an ongoing drive from supporters of a failed parcel tax proposal from 2010 to benefit schools.

“People who had voted ‘yes’ on it sent their $59 to the school district with the intention of it going to the Auburn Education Foundation, and we raised about $12,000 in the last two years from that campaign alone,” Brown said. “That’s an ongoing campaign, so we’re asking those that voted in favor and still wanted to give the $59 to donate it.”

Auburn Union Superintendent Michele Schuetz said a general downward trend in school funding over the past several years, combined with impending cuts as a result of the national budget sequester, has made the foundation more necessary than ever.

“With the turn the last few years, with the budget crunches, the foundation has been a vital support to the district in many ways,” she said. “It’s really changed from just giving us enrichment support to supplying basic needs in the classroom.”

Schuetz said a lot of the district’s parent/teacher groups and booster clubs are fundraising right now, but due to the economic slump, fundraising isn’t bringing in as much as it has in the past.

Monica Williams, the district’s business manager, expects the district will lose about eight percent, or roughly $32,000, of its Title I budget to sequester cuts. She said Title I, which appropriates federal dollars to schools in low-income areas, and special education are most vulnerable at this point, as those depend on federal funds.

“In Title I, it will cut programs. In special ed, it will impact our unrestricted general fund, because we can’t make correlating costs in special ed programs based on whether or not we get the federal funding,” Williams said. “We simply have to fund it out of our general fund when we don’t have adequate funds. And it’s already a roughly under-funded program.”

Schuetz said she hopes to know more by May, if not by the end of the month, so the district can plan its 2013-2014 budget.

“We will be reducing programs and staff, and we don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like yet until we know exactly what (Congress) is going to do,” she said. “We are already having that conversation.”

Brown said the foundation will not be directly impacted by the national budget sequester, but it has not been immune to other economic trials. She said the foundation gave some $32,000 to Auburn Union schools last year, but it had requests for more than $40,000 and has had to draw from reserves in a certificate of deposit to meet some requests. Brown recalled past years when the foundation could spare $50,000, and now it can no longer count on generating $2,000 to $4,000 with its annual dinners.

“The thing that’s really hurt us is just the economy. What we’re seeing is that, because the Auburn Education Foundation does most of its fundraising within the school community, we’re competing with a lot of other groups within the school: the sports teams, the individual parent clubs. We all seem to be kind of going after the same group of people, and that’s why we’re getting less and less at our dinners, our donations were way down,” she said. “The foundation’s at a point where we’re looking to do more outreach to the community and rely on the community, because the needs aren’t going away at all.”