Education Matters: Microscopes and clarinets vs. raises and the surplus

Last week’s column ended with the assertion that the San Dieguito Union High School District, with its just announced $4 million surplus, should stop asking parents for money for basic classroom and program essentials that the district should be financing.

Two examples that the district has not fully funded were offered: an $1,800 lunch sunshade at La Costa Canyon High School and the science lab at Diegueno Middle School.

Since then, several more parents have come forward with other examples of projects and programs in the academic arena left to parents and foundations to fund.

One of the most frustrating is the lack of financial support for music programs.

One San Dieguito Academy parent said the amount of time, money and effort parents donate to raise funds to support music is considerable.

The parents, she said, are very enthusiastic about the program.

“We have so many people volunteering to help and to donate funds,” she said. “It’s really a great supportive group.”

Parents are asked to contribute $300 each year to meet the budget, which includes raising money to pay for coaches and to purchase and repair instruments.

The group works hard on events like Cabaret night to find ways to save even $100 to cover intermission snacks.

But there is growing resentment.

Years ago, she said the district paid for music coaches at SDA to work with individual brass, woodwind and percussion sections. At Oak Crest Middle School, she said the music coaches worked with students who didn’t know how to play an instrument at all.

“This is crucial for the program,” said the parent, who asked to remain anonymous.

The district no longer pays for music coaches, she said, because the district “ran out of money.”

The district, she said, has the money back now, and the program could use its financial help.

At La Costa Canyon, home of the district’s only marching band, fundraisers are held throughout the year and each family is asked to donate $350.

“The music program has always had inadequate support from the district,” another parent told me, saying the band is down to about 34 musicians.

San Marcos High, the Poway schools and Carlsbad High have huge marching bands, she said. “There aren’t any big demographic differences between these districts that account for it, so I have to put it down to our district’s policies.”

Music education has been shown to improve academic and social development, she said, adding, “The evidence is out there, but our district turns a blind eye to it.”

Dedicated parents who give so much of themselves to support their children’s education shouldn’t have to work so hard to raise money for things the district used to pay for and should be funding.

Danica Edelbrock, a parent at SDA, said teachers asked parents at Back-to-School Night for donations for petty classroom supplies, like Kleenex. And she said the science department asked for cash to buy lab supplies.

“Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about supplies,” she said. “In our district they should have the funds to buy what they need before the year even starts.”

She said parents donate anyway, because they care about the quality of their children’s education.

“I feel bad for the teachers having to ask for money and supplies in our wealthy district,” she said.

Foundations

The four comprehensive high schools all have nonprofit foundations which raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for academic and extra-curricular programs.

According to its website, Canyon Crest Academy Foundation donations pay for programs and services that are more than “extra”: books for the media center, classroom computers and software, the world language lab, guest artists, facility upgrades for the theater and gym, pool rental, sheet music, costumes, lab equipment, science supplies, and more.

LCC foundation’s newsletter says tens of thousands of dollars have been raised to fund after-school tutoring, a speaker series, campus beautification projects, two new classes, a 3-D printer for the engineering department, $10,000 for science supplies, $5,000 for photography classes, and more than $35,000 for various academic departments.

SDA’s foundation raised money in 2013-2014 for the following: $68,000 for the robotics dept., $27,000 for speech and debate, $25,000 for materials and supplies for classrooms, $15,000 for writing tutoring, $12,500 for Chromebooks for the computer lab, $10,000 for music, and much more.

At Torrey Pines High School, its foundation, according its most recent newsletter, hopes to raise $400,000 this year to support engineering, business and accounting, culinary arts, computer science, biotech and television production programs – as well as to buy computers, printers, cameras, and specific classroom essentials for teachers. Money also goes for programs that address student support, connectedness and well-being.

These are just some examples of the kinds of programs supported by parents – not to mention the athletic programs that rely on parent donations for coaches, uniforms and supplies.

Athletic departments – where pay-to-play is still the name of the game – are the worst violators of relentless badgering for cash, whether approaching parents directly or by asking parents and students, unbelievably, to provide names and email addresses of other family members and friends to be solicited by outside firms.

This strong-arm approach that borders on intimidation is common practice with high school sports teams throughout the district.

One parent told me she is convinced her son won’t play if she doesn’t pay the “suggested” fee or if she protests publicly.

Even though their grievances are valid, few parents are willing to put their names to their complaints for fear their children will suffer retribution by coaches or teachers.

Legitimate frustration

Teachers should not have to beg parents for money, and parents should not have to fund classroom essentials like notebooks, microscopes, musical instruments, books and computers.

Parents have been beyond generous in donating to their schools on behalf of students, and San Dieguito has benefited enormously from their generosity.

But when the district comes out of a deep recession and finds itself with extra cash, teacher raises are important but so is district funding for academic needs.

If it’s true that there’s now a $4 million surplus, as Interim Superintendent Eric Dill said at the last school board meeting, imagine what could be done with just one-fourth of that amount. One million dollars would go a long way to funding some of these programs and classroom supplies that parents were willing to pay for during the recession.

According to a recent story in this newspaper, SDUHSD Chief Financial Officer Delores Perley said the district in 2015-2016 realized $1.5 million in savings on books and supplies.

It feels wrong for the district to congratulate itself for saving so much money on supplies while parents are being asked to pay for these items.

The reportedly under-funded Pathways programs (classes like biotech or engineering that lead to a path of study) could also use a little more (a lot more?) district help.

“As we’ve reconfigured our previous CTE [Career and Technical Education] programs into career pathways, we’ve had to divert more funding to start-up costs, like equipment and supplies that we didn’t need before, and for teacher training to further develop the additional sequences,” Dill said. “We are investing more this year than we did last year.”

Dill said the district spent about $2.1 million last year on CTE, and this year just under $2.3 million is budgeted.

Of that $2.3 million, just over $1.8 million – or about 80 percent – is for salaries and benefits, and about $326,500 is for books and supplies.

Based on reports from parents and foundation wish lists, apparently that $326,500 is not nearly enough.

Before granting the enormous 12.5-percent salary raises, perhaps consideration could first have been given to more funding for the programs and projects that foundations and parents are being asked to pay for.

There is legitimate frustration over the relentless requests for money when the narrative from the district is that it enjoys a healthy fiscal position.

Parents deserve some relief, and it’s not too late for the district to oblige.

Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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