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Corporations Sponsoring Competitive Grants to California School Systems

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Sacramento, Calif--Four California corporations, partners in what they believe is the nation's only privately funded statewide program of competitive grants for school districts, are actively recruiting more corporate sponsors.

Through the California Educational Initiatives Fund (cief), the four sponsoring firms are awarding about $600,000 this year in 71 grants to school districts. The goal, the companies say, is to increase awards to at least $1 million annually and to raise to 10 the number of corporate sponsors. Currently, the program is sponsored by the BankAmerica Foundation, Chevron U.S.A., the First Interstate Bank of California Foundation, and the Wells Fargo Foundation.

The grants, which average $10,000 each, have been used for a wide range of educational purposes--from a monthly newsletter written by students for households in an isolated logging area, to visits by poets in rural classrooms, to a multi-district effort in southern California to link curriculum projects to the 1984 Olympic Games.

"You would be impressed if you could ... see how helpful a few dollars can be in improving educational opportunities," said E. Tom Giugni, superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Mr. Giugni, one of six district superintendents who helped to design the initiatives program in 1979, has served every year since then on a panel of superintendents who select the grant recipients and determine funding amounts.

"The uniqueness of this program is that the corporations have helped put the money forward, and everybody involved in it is a fund raiser," said Caroline Boitano, project officer for ceif "But we're not out there deciding what should be funded and what the amounts should be. Those decisions are up to the superintendents."

Mr. Guigni said that discussions about the program began in the San Francisco headquarters of the Bank of America after California voters approved Proposition 13, the massive property-tax-limitation measure on the June 1978 ballot.

Leading officers of the bank suggested they were considering the "appropriateness of redirecting some of the money [that the bank would not be spending] back into public services," Mr. Giugni said.

Several years ago, BankAmerica Foundation made a commitment of $1 million annually for three years for competitive educational grants, he said, stipulating that the program be directed by educators and that grant applications be limited to two pages.

"In the past, foundations usually had not supported K-12 education,'' Mr. Giugi said. "They had supported higher education. This was recognition for K-12."

BankAmerica Foundation, after its three-year commitment, and Chevron U.S.A. Inc., formed ceif in 1982 and awarded 67 grants totalling $588,509. Last year, First Interstate Bank of California Foundation and Wells Fargo Foundation joined them.

Ms. Boitano said the group has "some prospects" for obtaining more corporate participants. "The new companies are actively recruiting sponsors," she said.

"Businesses can't continue to expend the dollars for training programs in simple skills in math and writing and reading," she said. "We really want the schools to be as effective and efficient as they can, for our own self-interest."

Ms. Boitano, who is based at the Bank of America Center in San Francisco, said the "primary purposes of ceif are to encourage local initiatives in improving public education and to build greater community support for public education."

One particularly successful project, designed to increase students' recreational reading and decrease indiscriminate television viewing, was originally funded with a $15,000 BankAmerica grant in 1979.

Developed by a kindergarten teacher in the Solana Beach School District in southern California,s and Beyond" has obtained both state and federal funds, is in use in more than 200 California schools, and has received national recognition.

Applicants for ceif grants this year were asked to focus on one of three areas: promoting basic skills, encouraging effective schools, and staff development.

Ms. Boitano said "the two areas that really stood out like sore thumbs [in the nearly 400 applications] were writing and critical thinking, and combining basic-skills development with the fine arts."

ceif does not award grants to improve or construct capital facilities, buy computer hardware, or employ permanent personnel.

The corporate sponsors have set these rules but keep themselves entirely removed from the selection process, Ms. Boitano said.

Nine district superintendents and a former member of the California State Board of Education currently serve on the ceif selection committee.

"Superintendents have an overall knowledge of how the budget process works and what real dollars will buy in a real market," Ms. Boitano said.

"I think they really do have the best interest of the students of the state of California at heart. They work hard to be fair."

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