PiE gives $2.57 million to Palo Alto schools

A last-minute 'emergency mode' effort closed a $600,000 shortfall from the goal, despite the economy

Parent volunteers were the heroes of the hour Tuesday when they presented Palo Alto school trustees with a check for $2.57 million -- a goal achieved in an "emergency mode" last-minute push despite the economic downturn.

The money comes as the result of this year's fundraising by Partners in Education (PiE), a non-profit foundation dedicated to supporting Palo Alto public schools. The group appeals to parents as well as to local businesses and residents who do not have school-age children to support the schools.

"Thousands of people made this happen," PiE board President Lois Garland, who has children at Palo Alto High School and Addison Elementary School, told the trustees.

PiE set this year's goal at $2.57 million – $1.5 million for elementary schools, $470,000 for middle schools and $600,000 for high schools.

Just three weeks before the deadline the group remained $600,000 short, Garland recounted. She said PiE volunteers went into emergency mode, using sandwich boards, secured matching funds from major donors and engaged school principals in their efforts.

"I'm blown away that in this economic environment our community would step up to that level," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said. "It's a statement about how much our community believes in education."

"Getting $2.57 million from PiE this evening is a big relief," Co-Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak said of the gift, as she was explaining the local impact of likely state budget cuts to school board members.

PiE last year raised $2.3 million for Palo Alto schools, as well as $100,000 for grants to teachers. Those funds represented a 9.2 percent increase over the previous year.

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2009 at 9:59 am

It will be interesting to see what happens next year when the reality of the library bond and the continuing economic situation sets in.

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Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2009 at 10:57 am

I want to express my immense gratitude to Lois Garland and all of the PiE volunteers who worked so hard, against such great odds, to make this happen. You rock. Thank you, too, to the parents, grandparents, neighbors, Palo Altans and businesses who contributed in support of our kids and teachers.

As one who did not do the work, I can only say: thank you.

Like this comment
Posted by Lilly
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2009 at 11:17 am

This is great news!

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Posted by Martha G.
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Wonderful news. Palo Alto's school system is why we moved here 15 years ago.

Thanks for everyone for giving so much.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Mar 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Let's hope some of it is not spent on this:

Web Link

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Posted by BP Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2009 at 11:04 am

I agree with Parent, a member of the Walter Hays School community - sincerely home our donaitons are not used to buy EDM type textbooks that are clearly not meeting the demands of make sure our kids are proficient in math and can compete on a global level

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2009 at 11:35 am

PIE funds are distributed to the schools directly and are mostly used at the principal's discretion. Further, they are generally used for "staff not stuff," since there is a carveout allowing this (most donations cannot be used for staff). So not much chance that PIE donations will be applied to textbooks of any kind.

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Posted by Moira
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2009 at 1:49 pm

What is the rarely discussed but reality of PIE system is that the participation of families in the district is so low. The only way the total amount needed is raised is because it is supplemented by large donations by a few individuals and business interests, especially realtors. In other words, about half the people with students in the school don't give, but enjoy the benefits of the system. And even when they publish donations levels of more than 50% at many schools, that could mean a family gave $10, when the cost per kid is several hundred dollars. I know that noone can be forced to donate, but I have grown tired of the lack of community understanding that each child costs X amount for the benefits everyone expects (last time I checked it was about $270 per elementary student). When my kids were in elementary school, I gave the amount for each of them plus some extra for the financially needy. I refused to give more frankly because I think the parents in this district need to know that it is their responsibility to pay for the number of students they have in the district. Do I understand that some families can't give the full amount due to financial situation? Absolutely. But that doesn't cover the MANY families who could afford to give the fair amount.

But kudos to those who do the fundraising.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2009 at 3:40 pm


Participation in PiE isn't that low. Yes, it's true that there are large donors who make a huge difference, but several schools, such as Walter Hays and Ohlone, get a high percentage of donors. And, no, I don't know anyone who just gave $10.

And, fact is, a lot of families were hit hard by the collapse of the financial market. Not everyone here has an easy time making those high mortgage payments. And, frankly, a lot of those families feel bad enough about not being able to swing PiE donations.

What makes me sad is that we live in a state where the tax system is so broken that we're very dependent on private largesse to have decent public schools.

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Posted by wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2009 at 6:30 pm

It would be interesting to see a percent participation (not $$ but number of families participating) school by school comparison. Are there any patterns of low participation? If so, perhaps the Board or someone could address the reasons for that trend.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2009 at 10:48 pm

The lower participation schools are the middle and high schools, largely because PIE is only a few years old and those parents did not "grow up with PIE." The expectation is that participation will grow over time. Also, schools with lower income families (BP, for instance) have lower participation. Not sure how the PIE board will handle that one.

Tax system so broken? Not sure how. We chose to be a basic aid district right, so our tub is on its own bottom. We could raise taxes any time we want.

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Posted by curious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2009 at 6:01 am

Huh. I was asking about % participation, not dollar value. That shouldn't be affected by whether parents are lower income. I know several families with very little who scraped it together to give something to Pie. As for BP, I seem to remember its participation rates went up then dropped again a couple of years ago. Odd that one of the schools that benefit the most from PiE also has the (or one of the) lowest participation rates in the District? What gives? Is PiE looking into the relative participation rates around the district and what might be causing them?

PiE is a great barometer of parents satisfaction, seems to me. Happy parents support their school. Unhappy parents vote with their pocketbooks, often without complaining publicly. Might be worth investigating the correlation and fixing the problem instead of having the rest of the district subsidize a school that even its own families are not supporting very enthusiastically.

Is this the case in other schools too?

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Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

To "curious"- the schools all benefit the same under PiE. It's distributed on a per student basis. Before PiE contributions went directly to the school and there were huge gaps in the level of programs and extras that the schools in the north had versus the schools in the south. Some may argue that that's fair and should have been left alone but we are a public school district and our goal should be to give every student the same experience no matter what street they happen to live on.

I don't think it's fair for you to assume that if someone doesn't donate to PiE that they are not happy with their school. Maybe even $10 is too much for them if they are scraping quarters together just to do laundry.

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Posted by Moira
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I worked on PIE a few years ago for my school, I know the facts. And the fact is nowhere near the majority of parents in the district pay the amount that PIE donates per student at the elementary level where the majority of dollars go. Middle school and high school donations are even lower. My point is people aren't paying their fair share and financial hardship doesn't explain it. PIE has taken the "nice cop" approach praising % participation which by the way is often $25 or $50. I'm a believer in straight talk, the donation letter should show what the per student cost is (I think close to $300 per elementary student) and ask for that amount. You can't be forced to give, but you should understand that if you don't pay it, someone else is paying for you. You could argue the system works because PIE meets its goal, but as I explained, it is supplemented by large donors and businesses making up for the unmet need. I was raised by a widowed mom and money was tight, I'm not criticizing those who truly can't pay, but that is a small percentage of this town's parents and everyone knows it. And yes, we're fortunate we get the money somehow since our state financing for education is broken.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm

There are many reasons why people do not support PIE.

Some do not feel that they know what the money is spent on, particularly in the middle and high schools. Some contribute to sports or arts boosters becauses they know it is benefitting their child. Some do not like what is being done in the schools and this is a way of voting against things like MI or whatever else they don't like. Some prefer to vote anonymously because they don't like being on a list of contributors to anything (remember what happened to those who supported Prop 8 financially). Others don't like to pay when they are already paying huge amounts in property taxes when others are paying very little. Many do not like the fact that we are already forced into paying for the school bond and the library bond even though they voted against them.

Need I go on?

PIE will continue to suffer for these reasons. It is free giving and the more some are hassled the less likely they are to give.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm

PIE does ask very directly and specifically for an amount per child ($600 I think?). I would say PIE donations have more to do with parent engagement than satisfaction - BP for instance overall has the least engaged parents (ask Principal Cathy) and gets the least participation in just about anything. At the upper schools for the most part PIE is not a part of the routine yet, since it is fairly new, so they give to the PTA, boosters, etc. like they always did. Other district-based ed foundations that have been around longer do not see the severe drop off at upper levels.

But certainly the giving is disproportionate, with a few giving a lot, and is likely to become even more so - the most successful ed foundations are the ones that are good at getting lots of high-rollers to kick in. PIE is actively trying to figure out how to cultivate big givers. As some notorious robber said, I rob banks because that's where the money is.

Like this comment
Posted by Congrats PIE!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Well, it seems to me that a fund that is growing by $400,000/year, ( 2.1 mill last year, and 1.7 the year before, or roughly so, right?) has got to be doing SOMETHING right!!


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