Partners in Education (PiE), the education foundation that raises millions of dollars each year to fund electives, support staff, counseling and more at Palo Alto Unified schools, is making a push for additional donations to mitigate an unexpected drop in fundraising this year.
Parents throughout the district received emails from school principals this month asking them to support the education foundation, describing how the gap could impact their children's educational experience.
The gap between the amount schools received from PiE this year and what they would receive next year if more donations don't come in ranges from about $25,000 at Terman Middle School, for example, up to about $100,000 at each high school, according to their principals' emails.
At Terman, this could mean fewer electives, counselors and technology teachers on special assignment (TOSAs), Principal Pier Angeli La Place told the Weekly.
At Gunn High School, it could impact counseling and wellness staff, elective courses like engineering and music, support staff at the College and Career Center and stipends provided to teachers serving as advisers for students in a new mentoring program, among other areas, Principal Denise Herrmann said in an interview.
"The things that PiE provides are incredibly valued and it is hard to imagine having those lessened," La Place said.
Linda Lyon, PiE's executive director, declined to comment on the drop in donations but said there is "not one specific cause to the downturn."
"It's far too early for us to know where we will end the year's fundraising," she wrote in an email to the Weekly, reaffirming the foundation's commitment to "raising funds so that all PAUSD students receive the education they deserve."
The school district's 2016-17 budget includes an anticipated $5.7 million from Partners in Education, or 2.6 percent of the overall budget. PiE donations make up 60 to 77 percent of the discretionary funds that each principal has to use for his or her own school, according to the foundation's website.
The education foundation distributes the dollars it raises equally among Palo Alto's 17 schools on a per-pupil basis. The educational foundation was created in the wake of a 2002 board policy that prohibits Palo Alto parent-teacher associations (PTAs) from raising money for specific schools to pay for personnel, with the goal of addressing inequities in site-based fundraising. PiE is the only fundraising organization allowed by the school board to pay for salaries of personnel working during the school day, according to the group's website, while PTAs support materials, programs and events at individual schools.
As a result, PiE dollars pay for more than 250 support staff like aides, reading and math specialists and counselors; art instruction; additional counseling; electives in the arts, technology, journalism and more. The foundation also gives grants to specific teachers "seeking to innovate, create, or work together with others."
At the elementary level, Partners in Education specifically focuses its dollars on classroom support, technology instruction and art staff.
"Without the support of these PiE dollars, our school would feel very different," Ohlone Elementary Principal Nicki Smith wrote in an email to her school last week. "We'd have fewer aides and would have fewer valuable supports such as dedicated Farm Science time, math specialist time, and less reading specialist time, less Spectra Art or Junior Museum classes, and less social-emotional support on the playground and in small groups.
"Simply put, our children would not have the same opportunities to learn and grow," she wrote.
At the middle schools, PiE dollars support "innovative" learning programs (such as computer programming, creative writing or stage technology electives); student guidance and support; and classroom support in writing, reading and technology. La Place said less funding could affect the school's ability to provide a full-time counselor for each grade level, for example.
"There are people attached to this all the way around — first and foremost the students and the impact that it has on them if we were to not be able to offer as full as a program as we currently are," La Place said, "and then it's the teachers, the staff themselves. The implications of that are something that gives principals pause."
At the high schools, PiE funding supports electives, guidance and college and career counseling. Both high schools received about $750,000 from Partners in Education this year -- slightly higher than usual due to a one-time donation, Herrmann said.
In her message to the Palo Alto High School community, Principal Kim Diorio said the education foundation's support is "vital" to the school.
"Their support is integral to our electives courses, our guidance and advising programs, our mindfulness training, and college preparation counseling," Diorio wrote. "Because of PiE, your child has a network of supportive, inspiring role models who enrich their education and their daily lives. They have instruction in interesting classes, help with labs, and assistance with their transition towards adulthood."
Principals said it's still difficult to assess the full impact of the fundraising shortfall given more dollars could still come in. Herrmann and La Place said Lyon asked them and other principals to send messages out to their respective communities earlier this month, but has not provided an update on fundraising levels since.
The foundation typically informs principals in mid-spring how much funding they can expect for the coming year, they said.
Given the school district is facing its own multiyear budget shortfall, some principals are considering ways to pursue alternative funding sources. Herrmann, for example, said she's looking to apply for grants that could support some of Gunn's wellness or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
Neither principal has yet identified specific programs or positions to cut and said they are confident they will continue to provide the level of education expected at their schools.
"The sky isn't falling yet," Herrmann said. "I don't want to be alarmist and go to that level of cutting or planning for cuts until it's really warranted, but it definitely would be potentially a reduction in some programming."