Families & the Community

Raise $1M in a Week to Save School Jobs? Not Even in Beverly Hills

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times (MCT) — May 12, 2011 2 min read
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An effort to raise $1 million in one week for Beverly Hills schools fell short, but the drive to prevent key layoffs is likely to succeed anyway because of a financial maneuver by officials and a pledge from the teachers union.

The initiative, called the One Campaign, was notable for its ambition and speed. It called attention to the resources that Beverly Hills can command for its schools but also underscored the reality that, even there, campuses have suffered from an ongoing statewide financial crisis that has caused even greater duress elsewhere.

For the official weeklong period that concluded Sunday, the Beverly Hills Education Foundation had raised about $540,000. The total has since reached $600,000—from 1,900 donors, 35% of whom hadn’t previously donated, said organizer Jonathan Prince.

The largest single donation was $25,000 from Lili and Jon Bosse, parents of a recent graduate of Beverly Hills schools; Lili Bosse, a City Council member, is a graduate of the local schools. One child turned in a dollar found on the playground. A parent donated a thousand soccer balls, which are being sold for $5 apiece. Saks Fifth Avenue donated $10,000, andother local merchants and restaurants also contributed goods or proceeds.

“The campaign brought everybody together,” said Alex Cherniss, an assistant superintendent. “People have this perception that in Beverly Hills, one person can write that check. That’s not the case and that’s not what happened. There are lots of middle-class, hardworking folks here, and almost all of them contributed.”

The tally was enough to persuade the school board Monday to save all 11 targeted positions, including counselors, specialists for disabled students, an elementary school technology teacher, middle school instrumental music teachers and, at the high school, the journalism teacher, a performing arts teacher and custodial staff.

Two of five board members opposed restoring all the positions, in part because of the sizable gap between money raised and money needed. But the district was up against the deadline for notifying employees, said school board President Lisa Korbatov, who voted for the restoration.

Beverly Hills Unified, with five schools and about 4,700 students, maintains offerings and small class sizes that have disappeared elsewhere. Even with the restorations, at least 15 positions will still fall under the budget knife.

To help fill the gap, leaders of the teachers union signaled a willingness to accept two unpaid furlough days. Each would save $150,000, according to the school system. The specifics must be negotiated, however, and approved by union members.

The school board majority also identified about $245,000 that it added to next year’s budget. The funds had originally been earmarked to oppose potential subway tunneling under Beverly Hills High School. Instead, that cost will be shifted to the separate, school-construction bond fund. Two legal opinions supported the maneuver because subway tunneling would affect the district’s plan to strengthen the building foundations and seismic safety at the high school, Korbatov said.

Officials also spent about $150,000 last year for a public relations and lobbying campaign to advocate for an alternate subway route. That amount will not be charged to the bond fund.

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