Parents raise $4 million to save jobs, programs in Dist. 26

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Numerous programs and as many as 68 teachers could be coming back to Cary Elementary District 26 one month from now if the school board accepts a donation of more than $4.3 million.

District 26 staff and board members have been in discussions with a group of parents about the donation since May, but the parents formally announced their plans and the size of the donation amount at Monday's board meeting.

Under the proposal from the group, which would be called the Soar to Higher Heights Foundation, District 26 would get $4,319,125 during the 2010-11 school year in 12 equal payments.

In exchange for accepting the money, the district would have to bring back 68 teachers, keep class sizes within board-defined guidelines and restore art, music and physical education as well as other programs that fell victim to more than $6 million in cuts earlier this year.

If the board accepts those conditions, District 26 officials said they would be able to meet them with the donated funds - even though the sum is well short of the $6.6 million the district slashed from the 2009-10 budget.

District officials also said they would have to push the start of school back by two weeks, to after Labor Day, in order to call back teachers and rearrange class schedules.

If the district doesn't meet the grant requirements, however, it could be at risk for losing further grant funds while still having to pay teachers and support programs it doesn't have the money for.

"We're committing ourselves to $4 million-plus in salaries that we cannot do anything about," board President Chris Spoerl. "I'm concerned about the liability - circumstances change."

Former board President Dave Ruelle, who spoke on behalf of the proposed foundation, said the conditions would not be overly strict, for example if the average class size for a certain grade goes over by one student.

"There would be a dialogue," Ruelle said.

Questions persisted, however. District officials expressed concern that they have so far received no verification that the funds are in place.

"I'm very skeptical that the money is there to bring back all these programs," board member Julie Jette said. "Unless we see that money is legit, I don't have confidence in it."
Ruelle said the foundation would verify the funds after it is formally established on Aug. 19.

Despite their concerns, board members were thankful for the offer, and the finance committee forwarded the proposal to the full board.

"It just seems like a miracle," board member Vicki Pesch said. "I am very grateful."

Grant: Board member says they need to see proof the funding is in place.