Fairfax schools expand their philanthropy bonds

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Crippled by a protracted budget crunch, Fairfax County's school system has redoubled its efforts to funnel private-sector dollars to public school classrooms, establishing a second education foundation to attract donations from local businesses.

On Monday, officials introduced the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce Public Schools Education Foundation, a partnership between the school system and the county's largest business association.

School districts across the country increasingly have turned to the private sector to cover budget shortfalls or pay for new programs. But Fairfax has become one of the rare ones served by more than one foundation.

The Fairfax Education Foundation, founded in 1983 to boost resources at the selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, has focused largely on providing technology for classrooms.

But as funding was cut and enrollment numbers rose past 175,000 students, officials began to see room for an organization with a broader ambition - funding a range of programs and services once paid for with public dollars.

"This foundation is a vehicle for much broader philanthropic contributions than the other organization, which had a singular focus on technology," said Jack D. Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County public schools.

Dale resigned from the board of the Fairfax Education Foundation in 2009. That foundation brought in $330,000 in 2009 - a tiny fraction of the county schools' $2.2 billion budget.

"The development of major technological projects that our foundation was undertaking had a longer development cycle, and our fundraising was project-based," said Fairfax Education Foundation Chief Executive James S. Rosebush.

School Board members say Fairfax businesses will be able to support the public schools in a greater variety of ways thanks to the new foundation - such as reducing or eliminating the fees for Advanced Placement tests, helping seniors through the college admissions process and supporting a host of programs for under-represented students.

Donors also will be able to propose their own projects in conjunction with the school system.

"The goal is to make Fairfax County and Northern Virginia a world-class place to live, work and go to school," said Jim Corcoran, president and chief executive of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce.

"In developing schools, we're also developing our future work force."

"We're going to have businesses with a particular focus partnering with the school system in a way that takes advantage of their expertise," said School Board member Tessie Wilson (Braddock).

The strategy of raising money for a specific goal is not exclusive to the Fairfax Education Foundation. Former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee last year tapped $65 million in private grants to help pay for teacher raises and bonuses.

But Fairfax's first foundation might not survive competition from the Chamber of Commerce. Its board members say they will meet soon to determine the future of their organization.

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