Jacksonville quietly raising private money for schools
by Laura Gaddy
Sep 07, 2013 | 3089 views |  0 comments | 60 60 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jon Paul Campbell, the superintendent of Jacksonville’s school system, wants to offer art, music and other programs that the school district doesn’t have enough tax money for.

So he and other leaders hope private donations can help foot the bill.

“We’re just trying to find the right combination of resources to make it happen,” Campbell said. “And I think we can.”

The Jacksonville Educational Trust, a private foundation established to support the city’s schools, is in the early stages of a fundraising campaign that leaders hope will provide the money for the new programs. Such campaigns, and the foundations that undertake them, are becoming more common nationwide as schools look to make up for declining revenue from state and local taxes, national leaders in the movement say.

In Jacksonville, the campaign’s organizers are not yet ready to discuss the details publicly.

“We want to keep things as confidential as possible,” said state Rep. K.L. Brown, who is involved with the trust.

Brown’s reluctance to speak is not uncommon among those conducting fundraising efforts. Organizers build momentum during what is often called “the quiet phase,” during which foundations solicit contributions from likely donors before asking the general public for more, said Bill Hoffman. Hoffman is the interim executive director of the National School Foundation Association.

Hoffman added that people who organize campaigns wait until they’ve collected a certain percentage of their goal to make the fundraisers public. Jacksonville’s campaign is in its second week and the trust is waiting to collect 70 percent of its goal, Brown said.

The trust reorganized to look into the possibility of doing a campaign more than a year ago after being inactive for several years. Brown said a capital campaign can take three years, but the trust doesn’t plan on disbanding once it’s done.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” he said.

The J.F. Smith Group of Auburn is helping the trust manage the campaign, Campbell said.

The trust, and foundations like it, are still relatively uncommon in the area, though Oxford City Schools is also supported by a foundation. But nationwide, it’s becoming more common for foundations to provide financial support to public school systems, said Mary Chance, a board member of the National School Foundation Association.

Chance is also the president of the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, a nonprofit group that supports school foundations in Florida.

In that state, the concept took off in the 1980s when a state education leader recognized that public schools could host successful fundraising efforts in much the same way colleges and universities do, Chance said. Florida has one school district in each county and lacks city school districts like Jacksonville’s, she said. Today 60 of the state’s 67 districts are supported by education foundations, and it all began with a pocket of growth in the Tampa Bay area, Chance said.

In Florida, foundations have become popular because they give residents and business leaders more discretion over how schools are funded. They also help fill in the increasing gaps left by declining support from state and local governments, Chance said.

“It just spread steadily over time,” she said. “People like the idea that it’s getting those citizens involved.”

Nationwide, the growth of foundations has happened in pockets, where school systems are supported by foundations that learn from one another, Hoffman said. He said it’s common for foundations across the country to drum up support with capital campaigns like the one Jacksonville’s trust is attempting.

He added that it’s a good sign that the trust has identified specific goals and projects, even if its leaders are not quite ready to reveal what they are publicly.

“I think that’s wonderful,” Hoffman said. “They have a specific goal and that is going to help donors.”

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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