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Education foundation boosts fundraising effort

A private foundation that has contributed more than $3 million to Aspen schools is hoping this year to begin putting itself on firmer financial footing.The Aspen Education Foundation, which will hold its main annual fundraising event Saturday, plans to launch an “endowment campaign” soon afterward that officials hope will raise $10 million and help the foundation out of its year-to-year scramble for money.Meanwhile, the annual May Madness party is expected once again to draw more than 400 donors to the St. Regis hotel for dining, dancing, and bidding on live- and silent-auction items starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.The foundation has operated for 15 years, but Executive Director Lisa Chiles said the group is worried that it continues to attract donations from only about 20 percent of the parents with kids in local schools.”Right now, what is most important to us is that people understand the value of contributing to AEF,” she said. “We need 100 percent parent participation.”She noted that the state funding for each student in the district is a little more than $8,000, which she calls “a good start.””But,” she said, “it’s certainly not world-class,” which she said reflects poorly on a school district in a “world-class resort, with world-class skiing, world-class music … . We want a world-class education here, too, because we have world-class everything else.”While Colorado’s school finance laws, passed in 1980, hold the per-pupil expenditures to about $8,000 annually, some states spend much more. For example, she said, Connecticut spends nearly $15,000 per student each year. The Aspen Education Foundation, she said, began in response to the state’s school finance laws.”Aspen Education Foundation supplements the school budget,” providing money mainly for educational programs, teacher support and in some cases equipment, she said.As for the May Madness event, she said, tickets are $150 apiece, although those who want to give more can sign up at various “sponsor levels” – $500, $1,000, $1,500 and $2,500 donations come with two tickets, a $5,000 donation comes with four tickets, $7,500 gets eight and $10,000 is worth 10.The foundation has other fundraising methods outside the decade-old May Madness, she said, such as a Scholars’ Circle for donors who give $5,000 or more, and the Business Alliance Program, under which local companies sign up for a three-year supporting contract.This year’s grant requests, Chiles said, totaled $670,000, and the foundation believes it will have sufficient funding (including the anticipated May Madness proceeds) to cover about $350,000.For the rest, the foundation is embarking on a supplemental campaign, mailing parents and scheduling meetings with potential donors to come up with an additional $170,000. That money, she said, would cover unfunded portions of certain grant projects, such as the Math Intervention program ($10,000 not funded); the college advising program ($10,000); theatrical production assistance for all grades ($24,000); International Baccalaureate teacher training ($15,000); and a half-time teacher in English Language Learners ($29,800), among others.The May Madness event typically raises about a third of the foundation’s annual budget, which was $550,000 for 2004-05. The organization gave out a total of $333,684 to the schools, according to foundation board member Becky Ward. Final budget figures for the 2005-06 school year were not available yet, Chiles said, because the fiscal year is not yet over.For more information on the Aspen Education Foundation, to purchase May Madness tickets or otherwise support the organization’s efforts, call the foundation at 925-3760, ext. 1118, or visit http://www.aspenaef.org. John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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