PCS under fire for heavy handed pressure to “donate”

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education has consulted legal counsel regarding the fundraising tactics of Pacific Collegiate School.  In April 2011 Principal Archie Douglas sent a heavy-handed personal letter (see below) to PCS parents who did not contribute to the school’s Annual Fund Drive.  Public schools practices are under close watch by the ACLU and the legislature as practices begin to drift further and further from the free public education promised by law.  The outcome of the investigation by the County Board is still pending.  COE board members are reported to be divided in their response on this issue.

In the interim, the issue is garnering national attention through a flurry of comments on the Thoughts on Public Education news site and blogs.

In addition to the ethical questions raised when the principal, the academic leader of a school, is pressuring specific parents directly to donate, there are questions about the transparency of the actual financial status of PCS.  In the Annual Report distributed to parents, the school shows only a very slight excess of revenue over expenses. In its messaging, PCS states that parent donations are essential for the day to day operations of the school.  It is made abundantly clear to parents that the programs that serve their children are dependent on their individual contributions (“you get what you pay for” – Archie Douglas).

And yet.  The actual financial reports – not distributed to parents, but available by public records request – show that the school ended the year with almost $300,000 in excess revenue.  The Annual Fund Drive brought in $771,000 from parent donations.  Instead of meeting the needs of the students currently enrolled, nearly half of those parent donations have been added to the school’s already astounding cash reserves.

Charter schools are required to maintain an economic uncertainty reserve of 5% of operating expenses. PCS wisely set their target at a conservative 17.5%.  After years of a high pressure donation campaign (including collections calls from other parents and board members) for “day to day” needs, PCS has accumulated cash reserves of 68% of their operating budget.  A school with annual revenues and expenses under $4 million is sitting on $2.4 million in cash.

In a recent board meeting, the excess revenue was acknowledged.  The board voted to grant Principal Archie Douglas a $6,000 bonus and give teachers a 2% increase in base pay. The remainder of the excess will be addressed in the 2011-12 budget yet to be made pubic.

It is appalling that parents are shamed and named into paying $3,000 per year per student under the misleading impression that PCS is under-funded while the board – with no oversight from its chartering authority – accumulates cash at an astonishing rate.  The PCS board has not disclosed their intent, but recent discussion with a realtor indicate that parents may have been contributing to a capitol campaign all along.

Letter sent to 93 non-contributing Pacific Collegiate families:

April 28, 2011
Mr. **** and Ms. ****
Dear *** and ***,
Everyone knows we’re a public school, and no one is unaware of the financially challenging times we’re all experiencing these days. Whether you’re a family or a school, every penny counts, right? I am currently working with the Finance Committee on next year’s budget. With that said, while I know you have not been able to make a financial contribution to PCS yet this year, I am writing today to urge your participation in this year’s Annual Fund.
I don’t mean to appear insensitive in making this request. We know our families are grateful for the quality educational experience that PCS provides, but the fact is that it just cannot be provided with public funding alone. If you don’t make a tax-deductible gift to the Annual Fund this year, your share of that burden will be passed along to other families, and we will be that much more limited in what we can offer, whether it be through staff compensation or program resources and support.
Of course, your decision not to participate in this year’s Annual Fund Drive might be rooted in other issues or concerns. If that is the case, I hope you will follow up and let me know. I have yet to work in a school that could not improve, and that effort always begins with communication and understanding. I hope you will feel free to arrange a meeting with me at any time to talk through troubling issues.
I firmly believe that in education, you get what you pay for: there are no bargains. The great success of the PCS Annual Fund over the years stands as proof of that assertion; it makes the difference between excellence and mediocrity. All of us are being careful with our money today, so why not make PCS your philanthropic priority? Yes, we ask for $3,000 per student, but we also know that not everyone can dig that deep. So do what you can – please. We need you, and every family like you, to contribute what you can to the PCS Annual Fund Drive.
Please help us get to the fiscal finish line on June 30 without compromise to our great program. Know that every gift – no matter the size – makes a financial difference, and that every contributing family joins a large circle of community support. PCS is special – join us in keeping it that way!
Thanks for your support,
Archie Douglas


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