LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Fundraising Pays for CUSD Core Programs

Capo Unified asks parents to pay for items it should be providing for free.

By Dawn Urbanek

Marcus Walton, chief communications officer for , called and expressed several concerns that the district had with . Mr. Walton asked me to clarify my position on a couple of items with which the district took issue. I have already clarified my position on the 63 percent increase in employee compensation over the last 12 years; while at the same time, CUSD has had to cut $98 million dollars from its budget. See .  I am now going to address the district's concern about the portion of my letter regarding fundraising. 

In Mr. Walton's , the district took issue with my statement that fundraising dollars are being used to pay for "Core" Educational Programs stating:

Claim 2: District staff suggests student body groups pay for “core programs.”

District staff plans to work with student body groups to determine if they can support some of the costs for extracurricular activities, not for core academic programs.

By Mr. Walton's own admission, "District staff plans to work with student body groups to determine if they can support some of the costs for 'extracurricular' activities." California law sees no difference between "curricular" activities and "extracurricular" activities under the "Free School Guarantee" of the California Constitution.

The "Free School Guarantee" of the California Constitution

Under the law- educational activities "curricular" or "extracurricular" offered to students by school districts fall within the "Free School Guarantee" of article IX, section 5 of the California State Constitution.  Hartzell v. Connell (1984) 25 Cal.3rd 899, 201Cal.Rptr. 601: 679 P.2d 35 [L.A. No. 31701. Supreme Court of California. April 20, 1984.] 

The "Free School Guarantee" of the California Constitution requires the state to provide a "free and equal" education to all children no matter how wealthy or how poor. (See California Constitution Article IX, Section 5, article 1)

On Sept. 10, 2010, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the California violated its constitutional duty to provide free and equal education by failing to ensure that public school districts do not charge fees for educational activities. The settling parties agreed that requiring public school students to pay fees or purchase materials for either curricular or extracurricular educational activities is prohibited by the California Constitution. (See California Constitution Article IX, Section 5, article 1, Section 7(a) & Article IV, Section 16(a); Hartzell v. Connell, 35 Cal. 3d 889 (1984))

My March 15, 2012  stated:


Fundraising has allowed a greater and greater percentage of CUSD's budget to be spent on salaries, pensions and benefits; with greater and greater reliance on fundraising to pay for core educational programs.

For example, to continue block music and Meet the Masters (art program), my school's PTA was told to raise funds to pay for these programs or they would be eliminated. As more and more programs are cut, parents are being asked to donate more and more to schools for things that should be covered by the $50 billion that taxpayers already give to the state of California for education.

The PTA, which is chartered as an "advocacy organization," has been turned into a "fundraising organization" with more and more time spent raising money and less time advocating on behalf of children.

Separate from the PTA as a fundraiser, parents have been asked to pay fees to participate is sports and other activities. Last year, the ACLU sued the state of California so that parents can no longer be forced to pay for books, supplies and participation in school activities, such as sports and other extracurricular activities. These "fees" were found to be illegal. A "public" school must provide the same opportunities to each student despite his parent's income or ability to pay.

Not only is the district facing $50 million in cuts, revenues from fees and fundraising will be less as a result of the ACLU lawsuit (Doe vs. California). Download: Settlement agreement between state and ACLU over school fees

The ACLU Settlement Agreement

The ACLU settlement agreement (Page 33) specifically states that school supplies must be furnished by school districts without charge:

California law provides "writing and drawing paper, pens, inks, blackboards, blackboard erasers, crayons, lead pencils and other necessary supplies for the use of the schools shall be furnished under direction of the governing boards of the school districts" (Education Code section 38118). Based on this section, the Attorney General has concluded that materials and mechanical drawing sets for art classes, cloth for dressmaking classes, wood for carpentry classes, gym suits and shoes for physical education classes, bluebooks necessary for examinations, and paper on which to write a theme or report when such a theme or report is a required assignment must be furnished by school district without charge as necessary supplies. Such supplies appear to be supplies that must be available to students in order to participate in regular classroom work in the particular subjects involved.

The ACLU setllement agreement (Page 34) specifically states that charges may not be levied for the following:

  • A deposit in the nature of a guarantee that the district would be reimbursed for loss to the district on account of breakage, damage to, or loss of school property
  • An admission charge to an exhibit, fair, theater or similar activity for instruction or extracurricular purposes when a visit to such places is part of the district’s educational program
  • A tuition fee or charge as a condition to enrollment in any class or course of instruction, including a fee for attendance in a summer or vacation school, a registration fee, a fee for a catalog of courses, a fee for an examination in a subject, a late registration or program change fee, a fee for the issuance of a diploma or certificate, or a charge for lodging.
  • Membership fees in a student body or any student organization as a condition for enrollment or participation in athletic or other curricular or extracurricular activities sponsored by the school (ASB cards may be sold to allow discounts or free entrance to games and social events).
  • Instructional materials must be furnished without charge to elementary and high school students. Adults may be assessed a charge for books not to exceed their true cost to the district. Education Code sections 60070 and 60410.
  • Fees to enroll and/or participate in activities of career technical student organizations which are part of a career technical class or course or instruction offered for credit. Education Code section 52375.
  • Pupils shall not be charged for transportation associated with activities of career technical student organizations which are part of a career technical class or course of instruction offered for credit when those activities are integral to assisting the pupil to achieve the career objectives of the class or course. Education Code section 52373. The exception to this is when the transportation is between the regular full time day schools that they would attend and the regular full time occupational training classes attended by them as provided by a regional occupational center or program. Education Code section 39807.5.

"Donation" or "Coersion?"

There has been growing pressure placed on parents of CUSD students to "donate" and "fundraise" to pay for those things that they preceive to be fundamental to their childrens education. Currently, , leaving only 8 percent of the district's total budget to pay for "everything else."

Building maintenance has being deferred for years, donations from parents are paying for supplies, instructional materials, art, music and science programs. Donations are now being used to buy back school librarians, counselors, nurses and instructional aides.

Donations are also paying for teacher stipends, teacher release time, and staff development. In addition to the PTA as a fundraising organization, schools now have foundations and booster clubs all working tirelessly to provide those things that the district is legally obligated to provide for free, under the California Constitution's "Free School Guarantee."

The word "donation" is used by the district as a means of circumventing the true intent of the law. Parents are continuously threatened by increased class sizes and the  cancellation of programs as a means of coercing more money from taxpayers and parents to pay for those things that are fundamental to education of their children. The never-ending cry for more money and where to get it was addressed by Chief Justice Byrd in Hartzell v. Connell, 35 Cal. 3d 928 (1984):

To permit wealth-based inequalities in public education -- one of few institutions with the potential to bring rich and poor together on a nonhierarchical basis -- would be to disrupt the role of education in promoting social cohesion.

To some families, the fees represent a significant expenditure; to others, they are minimal. Hence, it is apparent that the fee program imposes disparate burdens on students according to their families' wealth.

Admittedly, the district is operating within a difficult structure of legal constraints. The electorate has voted to reduce taxation and  expenditures, thus making it hard for local districts to maintain their accustomed levels of educational offerings. But local districts cannot alleviate the effects of taxation and expenditure limits by introducing constitutionally impermissible inequalities into public education. If the voters want higher quality education they must find a solution through the political process, either by employing the remaining permissible methods for raising revenues, or by relaxing the system of constraints.

Note: This opinion was written in 1984. Since that time, California legislators have increase spending every year. California schools are suffering because revenues have not been able to keep pace with the spending increases. In fact, districts have had to make deep cuts to their budget as a result of economically difficult times.

Allowing districts to enter into generous employement contracts without first complying with their constitutional obligation to pay for the basic educational needs of our children has devistated the California public education system. If unions wanted to increase employee compensation each and every year, then the union's should have found "a solution through the political process, either by employing the remaining permissible methods for raising revenues, or by relaxing the system of constraints." 

Unions should never have been allowed to put increased compensation above the school district's constitutional duty to provide a free and equal education to every child. Had the state and its districts followed the letter of the law, spending first on the basic academic needs of the children, then considering increased compensation, CUSD would not have seen teachers' salaries increase 63 percent throughout the last 12 years, leaving no money for basic supplies, music and art programs. In addition, CUSD woud not have the largest class sizes in the state of California. BIG EDUCATION!

Public schools are the largest item in state and local budgets. In California, taxpayers allocate just less than 50 percent of the entire State budget to education ($50 billion). In addition to what tax payers already spend on education, parents are being asked to fundraise and donate more than ever before. Relying on donations to pay for the basic educational needs of our children creates inequalities in the scope and quality of education that children receive. Schools that have a greater ability to fundraise receive more instructors, programs and supplies. 

The tables in the PDFs above contain a breakdown of the total reported donations by school from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2011. The data shows that not all "donations are being reported" and that what is being reported is being spent on the very things that the district is obligated to supply under the Constitutional Free School Guarantee.

Donations to CUSD are required to be repoted to, and to be approved by the Board of Trustees. At each board meeting there is an agenda item to accept donations. The following references the board agenda date and item and the amount of donations that were accepted at that meeting.

CUSD Board Meeting Date
Agenda Item Donation January 11, 2011 #7 (Page 93) 
$   95,970.92 
February 8, 2011 #9 (Page 91) 
$ 372,861.11 March 8, 2011 #7 (Page 93) 
$ 383,626.94 
April 11, 2011 #11 (Page 125) 
$ 315,849.38 
April 27, 2011 #12 (Page 47) $  39,341.10 May 25, 2011 
#11 (Page 61) $ 177,695.57 June 29, 2011 
#15 (Page 77) $ 349,854.66 July 2011 No Donations
August 2011 No Donations
Sept 12, 2011 #14 (Page 97) $462,139.42 Sept 26, 2011  
#12 (Page 77) $112,667.17 October 26, 2011 
#7 (Page 67) 
$248,960.27 Nov 30, 2011 #10 (Page 161) 
Dec 12, 2011 No Donations
Total Reported Donations $3,052,001.85 ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DATA
Revenue From Donations per Student Low: $ 8.64 per studentRevenue From Donations per Student High: $338.00 per student

See . 

Reported ADA Is A Misrepresentation of the Total Money Actually Spent Per Child in CUSD

These "reported" donations total a little more than $3 million and account for far less than what is actually donated. There are many foundations, booster clubs and PTAs that are fundrasing for their individual school, and not all of that money is being reported to the district. This means that what the district reports as "money spent per child" is inaccurate. Taxpayers and parents are spending far more on the education of their children than what is being reported by the district.

Legal, Moral and Ethical Concerns 

In addition to the question of the "legality" of these donations, there are social and moral issues associated with funding education through fundraising. Do we really want to fund core educational programs through donations? From the data, it is obvious that those schools who are better at fundraising get a better education than those schools which aren't able to raise as much money. From a moral perspective, do we really want to have so many organizations collecting money on behalf of a district which does not really have the ability to control the collection and dispersion of these funds?

How are fund-raising organizations able to hire teachers, pay aides and pay for teacher release times? Do they pay workers' comp, report wages and pay employment taxes? How is this pay reflected in the teachers' overall compensation? Is this pay included in the teachers' benefits and pensions?

Should these fund-raising organizations be allowed to pay salaries to foundation staff? The data shows that one foundation reported total donations of $211.92 and paid salaries to the foundation in the amount of $8,500?

What is the real cost to educate a child when the school site budget is $450,000 and the school generates $350,000 in donations? Is it the ADA being reported by the district, or should it be the ADA reported by the district plus the total donations/number of students in the school?


CUSD currently pays the salaries of both Ronda Walen, president of the CUSD classified employee union, California School Employees Association ($57,436 plus benefits) and Vicki Soderberg, Capistrano Unified Education Association president, AKA the teachers' union ($96,610 plus benefits). Both of these people are released from duty, which means that even though the district pays their salaries, they only perform services for union members.

So in short, they are full-time lobbyists for their unions. Maybe contracts would be more fair to our children if there was a paid full-time person at the district who could lobby on behalf of the children of CUSD.

shelly April 22, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Southcountynative, I see the reality of the situation. People would be here if someone was not benefitting. How about we all do not buy the cheap agricultural goods that are harvested by not only migrant workers but illegal immigrants at subsistance wages? So no cheap tomatoes, avocados, apples, oranges, broccoli, etc. How about not having our lawns groomed or house cleaned or your children tended to by illegal immigrants because we can pay them less. We should all pay higher wages or plant drought resistance plants, or clean your own house and pay higher wages to our children's care givers. How about factories, companies, business owners big and small, not hiring illegal immigrants at lower wages and instead they hire citizens at higher wages. We may have to pay higher prices for services and the goods that are made but then we have a middle class who is also able to pay the price of the goods that they make and the services they provide. How about not hiring illegal immigrants at restaurants and for food service. The profit margin for these businesses will go down and food prices will go up but paying people better makes a stronger middle class and provides better jobs. Look at starbucks and in and out, etc.
shelly April 22, 2012 at 08:54 PM
People are here because someone benefits. Do some research about who is benefitting. As I said before many of these families would not come here if there were more opportunites in their own countries. Research the history of American companies and businesses in Central and South America. People are just trying to do the best they can for their children.
shelly April 22, 2012 at 08:56 PM
It is supposed to read "people would not be here if someone was not benefitting."
shelly April 23, 2012 at 05:20 AM
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0422-corona-norco-20120422,0,7699834.story Good things happens when people work together.
Dawn Urbanek January 08, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Penny- I have heard that California passed a new law that will require all Cities, Counties, and local governments (School Districts) to include unfunded liabilities in their budgets starting January 1st, 2013. I have been unable to verify that. Do you know if CUSD will be required to include the $51 million in unfunded liabilities in it's next budget and if so- then where does the District stand in terms of cuts for 2013- 2014?


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