Parents chip in to keep school programs afloat

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

They ran out of chairs in the upstairs meeting hall at the Burbank Board of Realtors last week as some 200 people - most of them parents of schoolchildren - crowded in to help bail out the local school district.

The concern of these Burbank citizens was expressed by school superintendent Wayne Boulding: ''We can't wait any longer.'' Faced with budget cuts, Burbank schools have decided to drop programs for next year such as field trips, bus transportation for school bands and sports teams, classroom films, and a curriculum development program the school district is proud of.

The newly organized Burbank Education Foundation is among the community education foundations popping up around the country like little green seedlings after a forest fire to help out financially weakened public schools.

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Just how many communities have formed foundations like this is unknown. Estimates range from a couple hundred to a thousand. But observers agree the idea took root in California after Proposition 13 passed in 1978 and has spread fast in the past year. Says Harry Murphy of the Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles: ''It's a roaring trend.''

The aim of the new Burbank group is to raise $165,000 by August. Mailings have gone out to every home in Burbank, and volunteers are manning a ''phone-a-thon'' in the evenings this week, to solicit donations of $15, $30, and $45.

These funds amount to a mere thimbleful compared with the Burbank Unified School District's $30 million budget, or even to the district's $1.3 million budget cut this year. But they will help hold some school programs together while school reform bills are debated in Sacramento.

Two-thirds of the money would bankroll programs the schools would have been forced to drop next year. The rest will be solicited from Burbank businesses to buy computers and science equipment for junior high and high schools and to support a trial retraining program for teachers.

The Jordan Junior High Jazz Band stirred restlessly on stage as PTA officers from various schools presented the first checks to the foundation.

''I see the good in the schools; I see the good in the community, and I can't sit by and watch them suffer,'' says Vicky Claussen, a trustee of the foundation , the mother of two schoolchildren, and an alumna of Burbank schools herself.

David Hackett, founder of a local defense-technology firm and father of two graduates of Burbank schools, spent some 80 hours this spring going over the school district budget looking for programs the foundation could salvage.

''This is not a long-term answer. It's a bandaid,'' he says, adding that the long-term answer must come from the state Legislature in Sacramento.

Burbank is a moderately affluent, somewhat suburban town, fairly typical of communities that have set up education foundations.

One of the most successful foundations is further out in the Los Angeles suburbs. The tiny district of La Canada, with just 3,270 students, has already written into next year's budget $400,000 the local foundation hopes to raise.

''It's kind of scary because we're having trouble this year,'' says the foundation's president, Sid Karsh. But the foundation raised $300,000 last year, and $200,000 the year before that, so it has momentum and some solid experience.

The La Canada foundation hands its money over to the school board with no strings attached. It pays for a sixth period to the school day, as well as library aides and aides for students that need extra help.

Mr. Karsh says he moved to La Canada three years ago because of the school system's reputation. His two daughters were not challenged enough in the Los Angeles city schools, he explains. At La Canada, it took them a couple of years to learn to keep up.

''My oldest daughter absolutely does not watch television during the week,'' he says. ''She works from the time she's home till she goes to sleep at night.''

Small districts like La Canada are often where foundations thrive best. Trying to make a difference in big systems like Los Angeles is frustrating, says Karsh. ''You feel like it's so big you can't get near it.

Still, he adds, ''I think all of us would like nothing better than to close up the foundation and go home. . . . (But) it's the only way out that I know of right now until we get some funds from the Legislature.''

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