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Education Foundations Help Schools Offer More Services

If the Walnut Creek (Calif) School District needs extra funding, it turns to its education foundation.
Thanks to WCEF, local elementary schools can provide music classes.

IF the Walnut Creek School District needs extra funding, it turns to the Walnut Creek Education Foundation (

Luckily for the families in this district, the nonprofit organization is available to provide extra services. When it began 27 years ago, the foundation raised around $20,000 each year. In 2002, when California's budget problems started to trickle down to the schools, the Walnut Creek Education Foundation merged with another foundation, adding a high school from the neighboring Acalanes Union High School District to its roster, and upped the ante to raise $300,000.

A good chunk of the money the Foundation collects pays for the art, music and physical education teachers at Walnut Creek's five elementary schools.

"We had to pay for staff members' salaries," says Elizabeth Davis, WCEF president. "People were relying on us."

Nuts and Bolts

Each year, the Walnut Creek superintendent meets with her budget team of teachers, principals, staff and parents to ask what the foundation should raise money for. If the district requests something the foundation knows parents won't be able to get on board with, it can push back. "We know what we'll have success fundraising for," says Davis.

Next, the foundation asks families for donations. There are three focused donor campaigns. For the spring campaign in May, solicitations are sent to parents, alumni and community, who can mail back a check, go online to contribute, or hand a check to a volunteer at the Donor Day collection sites on campus.

During registration in August, the foundation has a table to educate families and collect donations via check or credit card, in person or online.

The fall campaign, in October, is similar to the spring campaign but is directed toward people who haven't yet donated. "We offer plans of one, two, four or 10 payments to assist anyone who is struggling due to the economy," says Davis. "We also offer a matching gift fund with employers that is very helpful and has really grown in the last two years." The local business community also gets involved.

This year, the suggested contribution level was $500; next year it will be $600. Fifty-two percent of the families contribute, but the goal is to get to 100 percent. "We spent our strategic planning sessions this spring focusing on how to target the other 48 percent," says Davis.

What Gets Funded

The foundation raises $230,000 for art, music and physical education teachers at the elementary schools. It also pays for substitutes to take the elementary children to these classes so their teachers can participate in grade-level professional development. "WCEF is incredibly important," says Patty Wool, superintendent of Walnut Creek School District. "Without it, district coaching and collaboration would not take place."

At the middle school, the foundation covers the costs of a counselor, a campus supervisor, homework help, and extra library hours. It also funds a visiting artist program, which Davis says is a terrific enhancement to what students learn. "The students get to work with artists, drama coaches, scientists, naturalists and other experts."

As the state budget continues to decline, WCEF must raise more money. Davis is thrilled the foundation has reached its goal six weeks early this year, and she hopes to do even better next year. "We've been asked to fund a similar budget, around $725,000. However, I'd like to see us come closer to $800,000," she says.

Ellen Ullman is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.