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Spare cash for schools?

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Charlie Love guides a few kindergartners through a biology lesson with the help of some recently hatched chicks at Riverview Elementary School. Supplies for classes such as goggles, lab coats and the chicks are among items the Durango Education Foundation helps to purchase with its annual fundraising campaigns.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

Members of the Durango Education Foundation have begun their annual fund-raising campaign with the anticipation of a banner year.

A benefactor who prefers to remain anonymous has pledged to match the first $50,000 raised at the kickoff dinner April 10.

School officials and community members in study sessions consistently name four priorities – help for struggling learners at all levels; continue enrichment classes such as music, art and physical education; increase student access to high technology; and maintain small class sizes.

Fundraising, as it has since the foundation organized in 1984, supports programs and pays for materials beyond the ability of Durango School District 9-R to provide.

Absent funding provided by the foundation and donations from corporate sponsors and others, the district would come up short of books, writing and math curriculum materials, after-school tutorials, science supplies such as goggles, lab coats and microscopes, musical-instrument purchases and repair and art supplies.

Last year, foundation support from donations, grants, scholarships and fiscal agency pass-throughs reached $101,000.

“I became alarmed when I learned last year that from 2009 to 2013, school-district funding decreased $4 million,” said Holly Zink, a fifth-generation La Plata County resident, who will serve as chairwoman of this year’s campaign.

State and federal revenue was $42 million in 2009, but this year, the district will see only $38 million from those sources, said Julie Popp, spokeswoman with the school district.

Anywhere one looks, unfunded need, particularly in technology, is evident, said foundation executive director Elizabeth Testa. Twenty-six students in a Durango High School sophomore literature class share 20 iPads; at Riverview Elementary School, 481 kids make do with 90 laptops; the district needs new math materials mandated by the state that cost $400,000.

The Durango Education Foundation began in 1984 as a memorial scholarship under a different name. The name was changed to the current one in 2013. It is a 501(c)3 nonprofit governed by a 13-member board. A full-time executive director and a part-time financial manager draw modest salaries.

“The school district is running on impossibly slim rations,” Testa said. “Classrooms are full; teachers regularly buy supplies out of their own wallet; updating textbooks and library materials is just a dream for many schools, as are field trips, classroom aides and even printer cartridges.”

The foundation’s Community Action for Education campaign aims to provide relief.

“Everyone in Durango 9-R’s reach has a vested interest in its financial health, so we’re asking everyone to get involved, contribute and get friends, neighbors and co-workers to do the same,” she said.

People interested in supporting schools can attend the annual dinner, take a hosted tour of district facilities to see need, talk with one of the foundation trustees; or choose from a menu of donation options, Testa said.

Donors can designate their gift for a specific purpose, school or grade level. If no use is specified, donations will be applied to the most urgent needs.

The menu of needs, divided into seven categories, is all-inclusive: portable computers for classrooms; books, writing and math curriculum; after-school, summer school and kids camp-enrichment programs; classroom supplies; stipends for visiting music and art professionals and musical-instrument purchases or repairs; direct gifts to a specific school or school level; or to allow foundation members to direct funds based on need or urgency.

In Colorado, Durango School District 9-R is 145th of 178 districts in funding, and Colorado is 40th of the 50 states in per-pupil funding, Testa said.

“The district has stretched its resources to maintain core education programs,” Testa said.

Any “fluff” was eliminated long ago, she said. “Administrators are making critical decisions that will affect most, if not all, students. There are only tough choices ahead.”

daler@durangoherald.com

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