I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
APS Education Foundation wants to raise $1 million
And that, sadly, that’s the way some people think of Albuquerque Public Schools.
Even though most of us in Albuquerque send our children to APS schools, the recurring budget shortfalls, plummeting test scores, and revolving superintendents have convinced many in Albuquerque that our school district isn’t worthy of our time or money.
That’s why I initially thought it was strange that the Albuquerque Public Schools Education Foundation would decide to launch a giant fundraising campaign now.
Upon further reflection, as traditional public sources of school funding disappear, I think private fundraising (on a grand scale!) is a brilliant way to raise money for crucial or innovative programs and get the whole community directly vested in the success of their schools.
With the Horizon Campaign, the APS foundation aims to raise $1 million for APS programs by the end of next school year. The money will be allocated to existing or new programs in four core areas–fine arts, classroom teacher mini-grants, literacy and middle and high school activities.
Decisions about where the money goes will be based on need and will be made by members of the APS foundation board– not the APS school board.
At the urging of APS superintendent Winston Brooks, the APS Foundation is modeling the campaign after a successful school foundation effort in Wichita, Kansas, where Brooks previously worked. In that campaign, 20 businesses were each asked to donate $50,000. They did, giving the foundation $1 million to spend on students.
The APS Horizon Campaign has started out with a bang–the foundation kicked off the campaign on Sept. 8 with $100,000 already in the bank–$50,000 each from Intel of Rio Rancho and Don Chalmers Ford of Albuquerque.
And it sure doesn’t hurt that the guy leading this charge is former Albuquerque Tribune editor Phill Casaus, who is now executive director of the APS foundation and the genesis of Horizon Fund.
Full disclosure: Phill is a good friend. We worked together at the Albuquerque Journal back when I covered education and he lived and breathed sports as the assistant sports editor. I know his wife (she’s a teacher at E.G. Ross Elementary) and his kids (they both go to APS schools).
That’s why I’m convinced that if anyone can do this, he can. He knows APS schools and he knows the people who went there then and who teach there now. He remembers their names and where they went to school and whether they played guard on the winning team at what school in 1982; he knows where they went to college and how many kids they have and what school the kids go to and who the principal is there now. (I have witnessed this personally and remain in awe).
Now, after 33 years in journalism at the Albuquerque Journal, The Albuquerque Tribune and Denver’s Rocky Mountain News (where he was the senior editor for local news until the paper closed in February), Casaus is reveling in the very focused mission of his first non-journalism job.
“If we say we believe in community, and we say that our kids are the focal point of our lives…then I think we need to think about supporting them in more than just the traditional ways. I just don’t see another way around that. Even if we don’t have children, we are totally affected by what happens in schools,” he says.
In his fundraising job, Casaus seeks out big businesses and bankers as well as smaller businesses and individuals and says he loves telling people about what the foundation is trying to do.
“I cold-call people! I don’t mind doing it. My dad’s been in the car business for 46 years. He’s always told me you can’t sell what you don’t believe in. And I believe in public schools. I believe in these public schools,” he says.
“That’s not to say they don’t have problems. But there are a lot of good things going on in this district, and we can talk about them and build on them. …I know I wouldn’t be sitting here if not for the people who believed in me at Sandia High School (he quickly reels off a string of names….). I really do believe that.”
It’s surprising how little negativity people express when he actually talks to them about schools, Casaus said.
“I try to rely on strength of what we have. When I go to talk to people, they are very curious about APS. No one says, ‘I don’t want to talk’ or ‘I’m mad at APS.’ There is great deal of curiosity about the district and what can be done now to improve it,” he said. “I think it’s clear even to the most jaded observer that there’s a difference in leadership now. It’s a very energetic leadership. Winston is very intent on making this district better.”
The APS foundation has existed for years, but never engaged in large-scale fundraising, Casaus said. The foundation’s allocation budget for spending on student programs for this year was about $35,000, he said.
Right now the Horizon Fund stands at $100,000, but it will get a bump from this year’s recent APS golf tournament, which raised about $58,000, said Casaus. And Raylee Homes has said it would like to build a house, sell it and donate the proceeds to the fund, he said. Donations to the Horizon Fund from individuals and small businesses and groups are also welcome.
By Memorial Day next year, if all goes as planned, the foundation should have $1 million to spend on student programs, said Casaus.
“I would love for us to be able to do it by then. We tell our kids every day, `You’ve got a school year to aim high,’ – why not tell ourselves that?”
“That number scares the holy Hell out of me. It really does. But I really think we can do it. And I really think the community wants us to do it.”