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Trust launches $200K drive for schools

Funds would pay for teachers, a new science curriculum.

As volunteers with the Bainbridge Public Schools Trust see it, the community has made a solemn commitment to its students and parents: that education funding will be adequate.

Islanders are being asked to renew that vow in a $200,000 fund drive that launches this week, under the banner of “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Organizers say the money raised will pay for new teaching positions and a revamped K-12 science curriculum, and fill out an endowment to meet future needs.

That those needs are acute will come as a surprise to those who don’t understand school funding issues, trust board members say.

“Sometimes it’s not just an intuitive thing,” said Jeff Vincent, BPST president. “You hear about Bainbridge schools being so good, but you don’t understand what’s really going on here (with funding).”

Organizers will carry the message that Bainbridge ranks No. 272 out of 296 districts statewide in per-pupil funding. This, despite perennially strong support for levies and an independent study showing that the percentage of the district budget devoted to teaching is among the highest in the state.

“People assume that because we’re affluent, we’re well-funded,” board member Jim Chapel said. “And yet, we’re behind in things.”

The trust was founded in 2001, to bring more private dollars into public schools. Its work is complementary to the Bainbridge Education Support Team, which raises money for specific classroom needs and teachers’ continuing education, and the Parent/Teacher Organizations.

The trust has set a fund-raising goal of $1 million through 2005. A founders’ drive two years ago brought in $238,000, while a “Student/Teacher Support Drive” last year raised $130,000.

Last years’ funds paid for two new teaching positions, one at the kindergarten level and the other for a first-grade classroom; bought $10 worth of educational materials for each student in the district; and designated money for students in “gifted” programs and those in special education.

Beyond teacher support, the trust this year hopes to fund a new district-wide science curriculum; this spring, a curriculum committee is expected to recommend a change in textbooks for higher grades, and the purchase of hands-on “science kits” to bring learning to life for younger students.

Such changes are hugely expensive, with estimates for the new regimen ranging from $125,000 to $200,000. The prospect of private funding is exciting to educators.

“We’ll be in good shape, at a time when other districts can’t even begin to think about (curriculum improvements),” Superintendent Ken Crawford said.

As in the 2003 drive, 25 percent of all funds will go into an endowment for future needs. The fund has reached the $100,000 level.

The campaign has achieved a new level of organization, with volunteers split into eight divisions, each made of four, five-person teams. Donations will be solicited through personal visits to homes, neighborhood groups and businesses; each division is charged with bringing in $26,250.

The drive runs through next month, with a “victory celebration” for volunteers to be held March 23.

Board members say the drive will become an annual event.

“We’re really trying to make this part of our culture here on the island,” Vincent said. “Its about getting into people’s living rooms, and not only raising dollars, but telling people what’s going on in education (funding), in Washington and in our schools.”

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