Monday, the Marc and Jane Katz Family Fund announced that it is giving $250,000 to Durango School District 9-R. There are several ways to respond to such an act of generosity, but the simplest and most direct is usually the best. So, on behalf of Durango’s parents and children, thanks to the Katzes!
At the same time, such generosity should embarrass us. The voters have no right – and no legitimate expectation – to think that a few philanthropists are the answer to school funding.
In absolute numbers the Katzes’ gift is a big deal, and it is an even more important contribution in the context of recent events. District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said the gift comes at a critical time for public education in Durango.
It’s a big gift,” said Snowberger, “We’re looking at a $1.6 million annual deficit, and this is significant.”
There is no denying that. With property tax revenue down because of lower gas prices, and state money cut back because of the financial downturn of the last few years, District 9-R has been scrambling to make ends meet. And with last month’s defeat of Amendment 66, there is no immediate help in sight.
With this new influx of money, however, 9-R can still move forward. It will be able to spend $50,000 on innovations and teacher training while devoting another $200,000 on School Vault, a software tool to help teachers measure student progress, particularly in mastering state curricula.
All that is welcome, all the more so in that this is not the Katzes’ first contribution to local education. Marc and Jane Katz founded Mercury, a local technology and payment company. As that firm has grown and prospered, they have generously and repeatedly shared their good fortune with the community. In addition to this year’s gift, in the previous three years they have also donated another $450,000. Beyond that, they got new computers for El Diablo, the Durango High School student newspaper, as well as arranged for a bus to take students to community college.
The Katzes have helped 9-R and this community immeasurably. And it takes nothing away from their generosity, their values or their obvious understanding of the critical importance of education to point out that this is still no way to fund education.
As Snowberger said, District 9-R is running a $1.6 million annual deficit. Everything the Katzes have given – and again, bless them for it – still totals less than half of one year’s deficit.
The math just is not there. And with that neither District 9-R nor any similar entity can count on running on what amounts to alms.
Moreover, windfalls such as the Katzes’ gifts could be used to fund special programs, travel, one-time events and other mind-expanding efforts that regular funding cannot cover. Using what amounts to found money for day-to-day expenses wastes the chance for expanded opportunities.
Worse, it could foster the attitude that whatever happens, the Katzes or some other concerned philanthropists will bail us out. To think so would not be only presumptuous, but irresponsible.
We thank the Katzes again for their generosity and concern. And should anyone wish to step up and join them in their giving, we thank them as well.
But the rest of us cannot use such examples as excuses not to pull our weight – especially at the ballot box. Public education is the public’s responsibility – and that mean all of us.