Sweat equity in Oakland

This spring, as California schools face yet another round of budget reductions, some are giving this fundraising formula a try: Oakland pride + a fitness challenge + a way to help a school in need.

Sankofa Elementary School library, photo by Hasain RasheedDagmar Serota was in a meeting at the Sankofa Academy library when she noticed the bare shelves. The few books that were on them, she said, were old and outdated.

Like other schools in the district, the North Oakland elementary can’t afford a library clerk, let alone a librarian, to manage the collection and lend books to the children.

Then Serota thought about Urban Promise Academy, a middle school in Fruitvale, and the money it was able to raise last year through the Oakland Running Festival. She thought of all the excitement surrounding the marathon, and the fact that people seem to like running for a cause.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we have Run for Sankofa.

Organizers hope to recruit at least 100 runners to raise $100 each for Sankofa’s library. Oakland Schools Foundation, which set up the website, is handling the donations. The school will issue wrist bands to the participating runners and set up a water (and cheering) station for them at 28th and Myrtle streets on March 27. Serota said she will recruit and coordinate volunteers to run the library once it’s stocked.

Above photo by Hasain Rasheed

Ride for a Reason 2010. Photo courtesy of Mike Napolitano.

Another athletic fundraiser, Ride for a Reason, is back again this year — with a 100-mile (or 60-mile) bicycle route to Sacramento. The ride’s organizers aim to raise $15,000 each for Claremont Middle School and Oakland Technical High School. The May 7 event is a political statement as well. The riders want to call attention to the toll that years of budget cuts have taken on California’s public schools.

“Over the past three years, state funding for K-12 education in California has been reduced by almost 20 percent,” the website said. “California currently ranks 45th in per pupil spending and has the highest teacher-to-student ratio in the nation. There is a crisis in funding for education in California.

… In Oakland, funding cuts have hit our schools especially hard. At Claremont Middle School and Oakland Technical High School, many elective classes and enrichment programs remain only as a result of parent and community fundraising.”

The more money the state takes away from public schools, the more pressure there is to backfill the cuts through local fundraising. Which means that schools that aren’t able to do so end up on the losing end, without the things we took for granted in public schools not too long ago.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.BigEventFundraising.com Clay Boggess

    “…which means that schools that aren’t able to do so end up on the losing end, without the things we took for granted in public schools not too long ago.” Why aren’t schools able to fundraise? It just takes people like Dagmar Serota. The problem is that we have been taking things for granted.

  • Cranky Teacher

    I fundraise for my programs all year long, every year. It is a ridiculous distraction from actually teaching. Currently, I am literally fundraising to hire a fundraiser!

    These fundraisers may be cute and it is great if parents organize them. I’ll keep doing them if they mean getting the kids the opportunities I think they deserve.

    But I do resent the Donors Choose-ification of public school funding. It is a distraction for us, and many teachers and parents are not trained and/or well-connected enough to be good fundraisers.

    All I ask for from the system: A starting teacher wage of 55K and a discretionary 5K a year (w/oversight, of course) to spend on books, supplies, technology and interventions. Oh, and a working room cleaned regularly, with heat and air con.

    Does that seem excessive for teachers assigned 30 (all day) or 180 (throughout day) students?

    Reality: 39K + 0 + dirty floors, broken sink and no air-con.

    As the billionaire donations and PTSA fun runs get the press, it is ignored that schools keep laying off janitors and aides, freeze salaries, and don’t maintain technology or facilities.

    OK, rant over.

  • Katy Murphy

    Clay: Yes, that’s true. But there are more than 100 schools in Oakland. My point was that each time funds are cut from California’s public schools, the more schools rely upon powerhouse parent groups, grant-writers, or people like Dagmar Serota to rustle up the cash to provide things — like a functioning library — that we once took for granted.

  • Oakland Teacher

    I hope that some of the parents are also going to be involved in this worthy project. It is not okay for a school community to be uninvolved at the same time it is asking the public for help. Some less-affluent schools have really involved parent communities while others expect everyone else to meet their needs.

  • David Moren

    Dagmar is yet again a champion of so many great, thoughtful and local initiatives. As a new and proud partner of Sankofa, we at Experience Corps – who recruit and train people 55+ to be tutors and mentors for underserved elementary schools like Sankofa – are in the process of also trying to “recruit and coordinate volunteers to run the library once it’s stocked”. If you, or anyone you know, is 55+ and looking for a way to give back (including the possibility of earning a stipend in the process), whether in the library or directly working with children, please contact:

    Experience Corps
    (510) 759-3690 or apierik@aspiranet.org.
    Or visit http://www.experiencecorps.org/cities/Oakland for more information.

    Thank you Katy for continuing to shine the light on inspiring efforts like Dagmar’s that help us all better serve our children.

  • Jean Parker

    As much as I object to the fundraisingification of public education, I am so proud of the folks in my school communities and my city for stepping up to make sure Oakland public school students get what they need.

    A million thanks to Dagmar Serota for seeing a need and then mobilizing people to fill it. The Sankofa library effort has strong support of the community, including families at my son’s former elementary school, Peralta, who are sorting and sending books as I write.

    I am also very proud of the Claremont Middle School community, who have stepped up to both raise money and send a message to Sacramento that our public schools are suffering a serious lack of funding.

    For those who are interested in Ride for Reason – there are still spaces for riders (http://rideforareason.dojiggy.com/). My husband registered to ride his first century in support of public education. My son’s middle school science teacher is also along for the ride, as is a former Claremont math teacher. Amazingly, an elementary school dad and his 5th grade son are doing the ride on a tandem (help them meet their fundraising goal here: http://tinyurl.com/kentonandnathanrides100)!

    As much as I despise the fact that we have to do this kind of fundraising to ensure our children receive a quality public education, I have to say I am humbled daily by the extraordinary efforts of OUSD families.


  • http://www.runforsankofa.org Dagmar Serota

    We are so thrilled to have already received over 250 books from Peralta school families! Jean Parker makes a very important point. This project has come together because it has a lot of committed and enthusiastic team members, including: Monique Brinson, Sankofa’s amazing principal and her staff, their wonderful partners at the Oakland Schools Foundation, the work of Ann Gallagher, the OUSD district librarian, families throughout the community who are signing up to run, gather books, and help us in the library and groups like Experience Corps who will help us sustain this. It’s working because it’s a collaborative project.

  • Bike rider

    Talk is cheap. We can spend energy responding to blogs or we can make headlines (and even more blogs) by doing something meaningful. I hope you will support all these causes. Even you, cranky teacher. You could even have fun and get involved and do something other than rant. While your ranks have merit and are definitely part of a larger conversation, your partcipation will always speak louder. I challenge anyone to tell me how meaningful participation distracts from teaching. That just sounds like a cranky old establishment person stealing ideals without solutions at a time when we need them to do something that may have an impact on kids.