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Advocate Urges Foundation Role in Restoring Honor to Public Service

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San Francisco

More than 1,500 foundation leaders gathered at the San Francisco Marriott hotel last week to look at how foundations contribute to the public good and to look back on how they have changed society.

James A. Joseph, the Council on Foundations' departing president, was the keynote speaker at the group's annual conference here.

He observed that the recent bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the rescue efforts that followed illustrated both "the worst of humankind's brutality and the best of a people's generosity." And he urged foundation leaders to "help restore honor to public service and respect for public servants."

"We need to help clarify the difference between those activities serving the public good which government can best perform, and those private philanthropy does best," he said.

At a forum on systemic approaches to education reform, representatives of a new San Francisco-area coalition explained how they used the "Annenberg Challenge" to unite local funders, educators, and community leaders around a common school-reform agenda.

Late in 1993, the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg pledged to give $500 million to the nation's public schools, with an initial emphasis on the 10 largest districts.

Although the San Francisco public schools were not on that first list, local leaders felt that the broader metropolitan area--a six-county region encompassing 118 school districts and 740,000 students--merited consideration.

It all began with a breakfast last spring at the San Francisco Foundation for local leaders and Theodore R. Sizer, the chairman of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. Mr. Sizer and Vartan Gregorian, the president of Brown, have been advising Mr. Annenberg.

After the initial meeting, the San Francisco Foundation continued meetings for the new alliance, which gradually expanded to include more local superintendents and K-12 leaders as well as higher-education representatives, community leaders, and others. The new group, known as the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, also convened a series of focus groups with classroom teachers to help craft its grant proposal.

The collaborative, which submitted its proposal to the Annenberg Institute a few weeks ago, is asking for up to $35 million to support reform efforts in the San Francisco Bay area over the next five years. It hopes to match such a donation with local public- and private-sector dollars.

Even though it has not yet been promised a grant, the group has raised nearly $230,000 from nine area funders, formed a board of directors, and hired an executive director--Merrill Vargo, the former director of regional programs and special projects at the California education department. Regardless of whether it receives Annenberg funding, the collaboration will continue, said Eleanor Clement Glass, an education-program executive at the San Francisco Foundation.

Funders Concerned About AIDS, a grantmakers' association, presented its eighth annual humanitarian-leadership award to the MTV program "The Real World" for including a young person with aids in the cast last year.

The show, part soap opera, part documentary, follows the actual lives of seven young adults sharing a home. During its third season, filmed last year in San Francisco, the cast included Pedro Zamora, a 22-year-old with AIDS. Mr. Zamora died last November.

Accepting the award on behalf of Mr. Zamora and the show's cast and crew was Rachel Campos, one of Mr. Zamora's housemates on the show. "Pedro was the first person we knew with aids," she said.

"'The Real World' helped convey the truth about aids to teenagers and young adults in a way that had never been done before," Mr. Joseph of the Council on Foundations said in presenting the award.

Philanthropic giving by the entertainment industry will be more important in coming years than it has ever been, Kirk P. Hanson of the Stanford University business school said during a panel discussion here on celebrity giving.

Entertainment-industry contributions "will be greater than anything we had seen previously," Mr. Hanson, a senior lecturer in business administration, predicted.

While many celebrities give money to charities--or lend their time and names to good causes--few have set up formal foundations. Among those who have are the singer and filmmaker Barbra Streisand and the producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Marjery Tabankin, who directs both the Streisand Foundation and Mr. Spielberg's foundation, said celebrities are often flooded with requests for help, which range from the serious and thoughtful to the bizarre.

In the nine months after Mr. Spielberg launched the Righteous Persons Foundation, Ms. Tabankin said, he received 4,000 proposals, including some from people who wanted money to send their children to preschool or put an addition on their house. Only about 300 focused on serious policy issues, she said. Mr. Spielberg's foundation focuses on Jewish life and promoting tolerance among different people.

It is endowed with Mr. Spielberg's profits from the movie "Schindler's List" and related products.

--Meg Sommerfeld

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