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Redefining philanthropy for Seattle schools
The approaching retirement of Robin Pasquarella, founding president and CEO of the nonprofit Alliance for Education, should force a rethinking of the role of philanthropy in the Seattle Public Schools.
The role of nongovernmental money in the public system is more vital than ever. Our city school system regularly tilts between solvency and financial ruin. A key understanding of the role the Alliance plays in the complexity of the district's $490 million budget is key to taking philanthropy in a new direction.
Despite documented examples in the past of lax district leadership and fiscal mismanagement, Seattle is better able than most cities to capitalize on citizen goodwill. This city is home to numerous philanthropic and civic organizations dedicated to the schools. A larger portion of the nation's top companies operate in Seattle and contribute heavily to the schools, including The Boeing Company, Microsoft, Washington Mutual and Amgen.
Yet, our schools expend great energy on their own raising money and covering the increasing costs of a quality education. Principals manage as part-time school leaders and part-time fundraisers. Ironing out the tangled web of roles would lend clarity to the system.
For 10 years, the Alliance has operated as the district's charitable foundation. During this time, the agency has generated more than $90 million for the district. At its peak in 1998-99, the Alliance raised $33 million. Credit goes to Pasquarella and the numerous business and civic leaders who have served over the years on the Alliance's board.
But enthusiasm for the Alliance has cooled. One key barometer is the Alliance's A+ Gala Dinner & Auction, which in the past has raised $1 million in an evening for literacy programs and other educational initiatives. This year, the gala raised $644,000.
We need a return to the can-do excitement of the late 1990s when former Superintendent John Stanford galvanized the city around the public schools. Back then, people couldn't do enough for the schools and donations flowed to the Alliance.
We need some of that energy again. And the city schools need the Alliance as a valuable partner in public education.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company