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Inside Ventura County

Realtor pledges school aid to prevent cuts

By Erinn Hutkin, ehutkin@insidevc.com
May 10, 2003

From kindergarten through grade 12, Fred Evans' three children attended Ventura schools. He feels his kids got a good education. His daughter even became a high school English teacher.

So when Evans, a local Realtor, heard the Ventura Unified School District might cut staff and programs, he decided to help.

At a recent school board meeting, he promised to give a percentage of his commission to the district. He plans to ask other Realtors to do the same.

"Maybe little by little it will build up," Evans said. "You just got to try."

Evans and other business leaders are working with a new, grass-roots Ventura group called Save Our Schools. Composed mostly of mothers, SOS hopes to collect $3 million from the community so the district can avoid cuts.

Because of an estimated $35 billion state budget shortfall, the Ventura district plans to cut about $4 million next year. SOS is asking the community to make up the difference.

"We're trying to bridge the gap that is going to be created by the budget crisis," said SOS co-chairwoman Mary Haffner. "Our children cannot afford to be short-changed. ... Our kids only have a one-time shot at education."

Soon, letters asking for money will be sent to homes of the district's 18,000 kids. Soon, banners touting SOS might appear in the community. Already, people are getting involved. At a recent school board meeting, Haffner, an attorney, challenged other lawyers to give money. Local Realtors, like Evans, and doctors did the same.

In addition, Adventures for Kids bookstore is trying to get children's author Lemony Snicket to visit in conjunction with an SOS fund-raiser. Coca-Cola might give SOS a percentage of sales at a Vons supermarket, Haffner said.

"This community cares too much to say, 'We're not going to help,' " Haffner said.

Unless something is done, jobs of Ventura elementary counselors, reading teachers and school nurses could be jeopardized. Programs may also be eliminated.

Such programs include Reading Safety Net, which trains teachers to help struggling young readers. The district might cut Peer Assistance review, where experienced teachers mentor novice educators.

A program called AVID could be eliminated in middle and high schools. It targets students needing motivation for college and careers. A Student Assistance Program might not continue to help kids with issues such as divorce or drug abuse.

Also, one of two resource officers in charge of security at elementary and middle schools might not be returning.

The Ventura district is not alone in the search for some alternative funding. Pleasant Valley and Oxnard Union High school districts have nonprofit foundations and boosters raising funds for the arts, technology, athletics and band.

Ventura Unified Superintendent Trudy Arriaga said SOS knows the magnitude of its task. She said anything it raises will be put to good use.

"It's devastating to think of anything not returning," she said. "I feel grateful our community would step forward."