Teachers’ Wishes Come True with DonorsChoose

Caroline Hardeman, a sixth grade teacher at Hollow Hills Elementary School, shows off her new class seismograph, purchased through donations over DonorsChoose.org.
Caroline Hardeman, a sixth grade teacher at Hollow Hills Elementary School, shows off her new class seismograph, purchased through donations over DonorsChoose.org.

Caroline Hardeman is no novice to classroom fundraising.

Over the years, the veteran sixth-grade teacher has proudly pursued any opportunity to help fund different material needs that arise from her ever-expanding repertoire of science lessons. Sometimes the hunt for funds ended successfully and quickly. Other times, it felt like wasted time.

Until she discovered DonorsChoose.org.

The clouds parted and the angels sang as much-needed supplies and equipment found their way to Classroom A6 at Hollow Hills.

“It’s so easy,” she said. “Your school community wants to help you and you just have to let them know what you need.”

DonorsChoose is a non-profit company that enables public school teachers (and only teachers) throughout the country to create fundraising campaigns to buy specific classroom supplies through charitable donations.

Teachers “shop” for what they need through Amazon. Then they create a campaign–a webpage on the DonorsChoose site where they write about what they want for their classroom and why, set a funding goal and a time limit. Outreach comes next, with many teachers using Facebook and other social media to get the word out to parents. Some send notes home or ask parents directly.

Donors give directly through the DonorsChoose website, eliminating the need for the schools or districts to monitor the money received. The donations are banked in an account for the teacher and when the goal is met, the teacher can order the supplies and materials directly through Amazon. DonorsChoose handles all of the tax notices; all donations are charitable deductions. Should a goal not be met for a specific campaign, the money that is raised is banked for the teacher to use for other supplies.

In the last year, Hardeman has launched four campaigns, all successful. Her requests included a seismograph ($938), a tectonics demonstration model and lab supplies to teach about earthquakes ($878) and supplies for starting a school garden and compost center ($993). And last month, Hardeman raised $2,051 to purchase an wall-mounted projector for her classroom that replaces some aging equipment.

“I’m winning grants left and right,” she said. “None of my grants have been online for more than a week.”

One of the best aspects of DonorsChoose is that they’ve formed partnerships with foundations and corporations to help fund specific projects. In Hardeman’s case, three of her four campaigns were partly funded with matching grants, two from Disney and one from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That means that less money is needed from parents and friends to fund a campaign.

“With the matching funds, it’s the easiest thing ever,” she said. “You go shopping online and start small. I donate first (on my own campaigns). You can link to FaceBook from the DonorsChoose page. If you have a parent in the class who wants to let people know, I link to the parent on the PTA website.”

Sixth grade teacher Holly Dye uses DonorsChoose to supplement her English classroom's reading materials.
Sixth grade teacher Holly Dye uses DonorsChoose to supplement her English classroom’s reading materials.

Hardeman’s teaching partner, Holly Dye, used DonorsChoose a couple of years ago to fund a classroom set of mythology books. Thirty-six copies of “D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths” sit proudly on Dye’s shelf.

Dye also used DonorsChoose to buy masks and graphic novels for her classroom.

Currently, only three schools hosting five campaigns from Simi Valley are posted on the website. Requests include math supplies, iPad Minis, books and science materials. (You can search locally for teachers in need.)

Hardeman said it’s important to have good relationships with the class parents, a current email list and to send thank-you notes on time. (The thank-you notes are a requirement of DonorsChoose.)

DonorsChoose supports itself through a voluntary contribution added to the teacher’s campaign. Suggested at 15%, the donation is enough to support the 14-year-old company.

DonorsChoose launched in 2000 when a New York City history teacher, Charles Best, developed a website to collect class donations from others in lieu of continuing to spend his own money on supplies. Since then, DonorsChoose has raised more than $260 million for almost 200,000 public school teachers in almost 58,000 schools. Altogether, 488,139 projects have been funded through DonorsChoose. (For some interesting stats on DonorsChoose, click HERE.)

If you don’t want to miss any news published here about Simi Valley schools, please sign up for email notifications in the upper right hand area of this page. We usually post District news one to three times a week. Any questions or article ideas? Contact Jake Finch at jake.finch@simivalleyusd.org. Also follow us by “liking” our Facebook page, or on Twitter. 

BOARD REPORT: Regular Board Meeting June 24, 2014

Education. School, teaching and educational concept blackboard.

Tuesday’s regular meeting for the Simi Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees is the last of the school year and several important actions were taken by the Board that need to be reported. The full agenda pack with back up materials can be found HERE, as well as the meetings recorded video.

1. (Action Item Educational Services 3.1) The Board unanimously approved the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan for the 2014-15 school year. This plan, newly mandated by the state in 2013, requires all California school districts to provide a three-year goal-setting and implementation plan for each district to follow. Part of the process of developing the LCAP required intensive input from “stakeholders” in the local educational community–students, teachers, parents, administrators and community members. The eight priority areas each District’s plan must address are: student engagement, student achievement, school climate, basic services, Common Core State Standards, access to a broad curriculum, parent involvement and other student outcomes. The LCAP is required before any school district receives funding from the state. More information about the LCAP and the final plan are found HERE.

2. (Action Item Educational Services 3.2) The Board voted 4-1 with Trustee Debbie Sandland dissenting to close Simi Elementary School in the 2015-2016 school year. The school has been operating independently at the Mountain View Elementary campus since February when the Board agreed to close the campus because of safety concerns affecting the entire property. Over the last few weeks, the District began consolidating some logistics. Simi Elementary Principal Kate Snowden was reassigned to Wood Ranch Elementary and Mountain View Elementary Principal Jenny Goldman will oversee both schools this year with the assistance of a dean. Simi Elementary students will continue to be bussed to the Mountain View campus as requested.

The vote also included the Board’s directive that a community-based committee be created to oversee the preservation and future use of the historic property. The front/main building of the Simi Elementary campus was the oldest operating building in the city of Simi Valley, but repairs needed to seismically retrofit were estimated at $6.3 million from quotes obtained a couple of years ago. Additionally, the cost to upgrade the remainder of the property was estimated at up to $4.3 million, again from quotes obtained a couple of years ago.

Closing the campus is estimated to save the District between $350,000 and $400,000 the first year and if the property is repurposed, that estimate drops to $200,000 to $250,000 annually. In 2013-14, about 235 students were enrolled in the school. For 2014-15, about 109 students are expected to remain in Simi Elementary School. More information documenting the maintenance issues at the campus can be found HERE.

3. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.2) The Board unanimously approved the District’s 2014-2015 proposed budget. With expected revenue of $142 million and expected expenses at $144 million, the District will make up the difference through surplus reserves remaining from the 2013-2014 budget year, leaving a surplus after reserves are accounted for of about $411,000 at the end of 2014-2015. The next two year’s budget estimates also project small surpluses.

Declining enrollment continues to be a factor in the budget with an estimated student loss of 418 students for a projected enrollment districtwide of 17,935 students. There are also increases in some employee health benefits, including a 11.54 percent increase in PPO coverage and a 3.08 percent increase in Blue Cross HMO coverage. To help balance the budget, employees will now pay for some of the medical coverage provided to their spouses under the District’s benefit plan.

But, all potential teacher layoffs–38 total–were rescinded because of the overwhelming response to the District’s early retirement incentive plan (PARS). There will still be three furlough days on the next year’s school calendar and the Kindergarten through third grade class size will be reduced to 26:1.

This is only the preliminary budget and the Board will once again be asked to review a revised budget after the State Legislature and Governor approve a state budget. For more specific information about the District’s budget, go HERE.

4. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.6) Related to the Simi Elementary closure, the Board also unanimously agreed to look into exterior fencing to protect the front/main building on the Simi Elementary campus. Believing it would be less visibly obtrusive, District staff recommending exploring an interior bracing system to support the walls until repairs could begin on the building, but several community members asked that fencing be considered instead so as to not cause further damage to the building’s walls. The Board agreed and staff will gather estimates and options for different types of fencing.

5. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.4) The Board unanimously agreed to repair/replace the roofs at the following schools: Atherwood Elementary, Big Springs Elementary, Hillside Middle School, Hollow Hills Elementary, Royal High School, Santa Susana Elementary, Sinaloa Middle School and Valley View Middle School.

These schools were identified as having the most deteriorated roofs. The estimated cost to repair these roofs is $2 million and will be paid for through the Measure C4 bond, leaving a balance in the Measure C4 bond account of about $11.6 million.

6. (Action Item Business & Facilities 5.5) The Board unanimously agreed to replace the broken air-conditioning and heating units at the Education Service Center for almost $150,000. Two of the four units in the main building stopped working in April. District maintenance staff will install the new units, which are expected to provide better energy efficiency.

The next regular SVUSD School Board meeting is scheduled for August 5.