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Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation looking for more parent involvement

The Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation is moving forward with a new organizational structure that is intended to make it stronger, with better efficiency, greater transparency and more parent engagement. The foundation held two town hall meetings on May 13 to discuss the new structure as well as the endowment, which will reach the targeted goal of $5 million this year and effectively “come to life.”

Chair Alexia Bregman said the foundation’s philosophy is a collective spirit — everyone in the school community contributing toward creating something wonderful in the school. This year, they have raised $1.2 million, and their annual grant allocation to the district keeps class sizes small and provides for individualized instruction and enrichment activities.

“We are constantly looking at the organization as the community evolves and the needs of parents and the foundation evolves,” Bregman said. “Our history led us to a place when sometimes we lose the community involvement.”

The previous leadership team had fundraising roles, which Bregman said limited involvement from people who did not want to be fundraisers. The new executive board structure includes chairs and vice chairs of annual giving, finance, leadership team, endowment, communication, two at-large members, a secretary, Superintendent Lindy Delaney and a school board representative.

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The foundation has also added grade level ambassadors as part of the annual giving team and is seeking to hire a paid foundation development director.

Every position is available, and Bregman said she hopes people will put their names in to volunteer — she would love to have new members with fresh ideas.

The paid development director position is something that has been discussed in the past.

Bregman said it’s harder to raise funds on an annual basis, and a director could help with best practices for annual giving, as well as working with the endowment to raise larger sums.

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“There are very few foundations that don’t have a professional involved, and that is a big missed opportunity that we have,” said Glenn Oratz, who was announced as the chairman of the endowment.

The meeting provided a chance to hear about the endowment’s history. In 1997, class sizes had swollen to 32 kids, and parents got together to try to change that. Ten families, led by Steve Hamerslag, contributed a combined total $100,000 to help reduce class sizes.

Eighty percent of the Parent Teacher Organization’s fundraising went to the school and 20 percent went to help grow the endowment, which started with a targeted goal of $10 million but was then scaled back to $5 million.

In 2007, the PTO and endowment merged to create the foundation.

As Oratz explained, the endowment is the long-term legacy for the school, while the foundation starts new with fundraising every year. The endowment’s goal is to bring in gifts of five figures, “long-term and significant monies.”

As the endowment has nearly reached its $5 million target, distribution will begin in the 2015-16 school year. A seven-member board will determine how the money should be distributed, at a conservative rate of 3 percent or $126,659.

As the compound annual growth of the endowment is 6 percent, Oratz said they will ideally distribute funds modestly less than the return. The Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, the third largest in San Diego, manages the funds.

“(The endowment) is something we should all be incredibly proud of — it’s an incredible asset,” Oratz said.

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To involve more members of the community, the foundation is pursuing community partners. According to Jeff Symon, community partners chair, the foundation collects sponsorships and in-kind donations from local businesses, about $88,000 this year. The foundation then prints nine “Extra! Ordinary” monthly magazines with the funding at a cost of $14,716. Symon said their goal is to raise $100,000 this year through the community partners.

An independent Parent Engagement Exploratory Committee is also looking at ways to get more parents involved, including the potential of bringing back a PTO.

Superintendent Delaney said some parents’ concerns have resonated with her about the difference between parent involvement and parent engagement.

“Parent volunteers in the district are second to none, but there is obviously a piece missing by some people’s standards,” Delaney said.

Delaney said the district wants to ensure the foundation keeps going strong because that is “the heartbeat” of what the district does — but the committee can look at how to serve the school community better.

To help encourage parent feedback, the foundation will start hosting town hall meetings to allow parent input on a variety of topics. The first will be held at 8:15 a.m. May 26.

Parents at the town hall questioned whether there could be dedicated fundraising campaigns for things like the gym project or the Spanish program.

Oratz said that the endowment will allow a mechanism to receive directed giving, and said they could explore the possibility of dedicated fundraising campaigns. However, he said a danger of that kind of fundraising is that it could potentially “cannibalize” money that goes to support the foundation’s annual fundraising goals.

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Another parent asked about the school’s surplus this year and the district’s reserves of $5 million. The parent asked whether a surplus could go back to the foundation instead of having them start from scratch.

Delaney said some years the district has had a surplus because of the awkward budget timeline — it can be hard to predict where property tax revenues end up. This year was the first time in five years that property values went up and they received $240,000 more than what was anticipated.

Oratz noted that the district has a $10.5 million budget, and any organization with fiscal prudence would have reserves associated with it.

“I think there’s some misconception that the school is flush with cash that’s readily available,” Oratz said.

Delaney said the board believes it is in their best interest to keep a healthy reserve. Since for several years they have looked to increase the footprint of the campus for playfields, they have reserve funds earmarked for a potential purchase of land when it becomes available, such as the nearby Mature property or the Association-owned “Hat” parcel.

“I never want parents to feel like the district is saving money when we’re asking for so much — that’s never been the intent,” Delaney said.

Nomination packets have gone out for the various new foundation positions and are due back by May 22. The nominating committee of the board will meet May 27 to prepare the slate of nominees for the 2015-16 school year.

“It’s a work in progress,” Bregman said. “Come be a part of it and help us keep making the district better.”


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