With Leader, Education Fund Begins Mission to Help Schools

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008

When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty took over D.C. schools in the summer, he announced plans to raise private money to help supplement the system's operating budget -- much as his mentor, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), did when he took over the schools there. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman before taking office, raised hundreds of millions from his fat-cat friends.

Since the takeover by Fenty (D), the idea of the D.C. business community rallying to the schools' needs has gone almost nowhere. Some developers helped with a much-ballyhooed "buff and scrub" to get some buildings ready for students, but business leaders have hesitated to invest more, saying that their donations have been squandered in the past.

Now, there appears to be some movement on Fenty's school fundraising front. Sara Lasner, a Fenty aide, recently left his bullpen office to take a non-government position as executive director of the new D.C. Public Education Fund. According to administration officials, Lasner will be responsible for starting the organization and overseeing fundraising for the D.C. public schools.

Lasner told the Notebook that the fund has applied for 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit organization. The fund has a three-member board of directors. Lest anyone still has doubts that this new operation is a Fenty concoction, the board is made up of mayoral allies Ben Soto, Fenty's campaign treasurer; Earle "Chico" Horton, who helped Fenty's transition team before he took office; and Jason Washington, Fenty's former advance man.

For now, Lasner said, she's the only staff member. She is based in Soto's title company office at 14th and P streets NW. Lasner said she's just getting situated but plans to go on a fact-finding trip to New York to check out Bloomberg's operation. Lasner said the difference is that in the District, the fundraising arm must be independent of government, whereas Bloomberg is able to raise the money himself.

"I'm gathering my list now about everyone I need to talk to," Lasner said.

Lasner has a background in fundraising, having teamed with Fenty adviser John Falcicchio to organize the mayor's campaign fundraising. (Soto was the campaign treasurer.)

She then left to work for Skyline Public Works, a San Francisco group established by the Rappaport Family Foundation to invest in for-profit companies whose products "enhance the public good." Lasner said that organization no longer exists, although its Web site does.

Lasner returned to work as a Fenty aide in his bullpen office last year before starting with the education fund. She said that she's still setting up her official mailing address, phone and e-mail but that anyone who wants to donate to the schools should contact her at saralasner@gmail.com.

Williams on Stadium Issue

His legacy will be as the mayor who brought baseball back to Washington, but when the Notebook caught up recently with Anthony A. Williams, we couldn't resist asking him about the ongoing debate over whether the city should spend public money to build a new soccer stadium for D.C. United at Poplar Point.

Williams -- now the chief executive of Primum Public Realty Trust, an offshoot of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey -- did not hesitate when asked his opinion.

"Washington should have a soccer stadium," he said. "Washington is three cities. It's a local city, which often gets overlooked. It's a federal city, which everyone and their mother knows. But it's also an international city. Washington has the largest diplomatic delegation in the world. Soccer is a world sport. It dwarfs our football. The capital of the United States should have a soccer stadium. In every other world capital, soccer is a big deal. We should have a stadium."

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