When Marc Hernandez took over as president of the in January of this year, he said he had his work cut out for him.
Hernandez, who replaced T.H.E. founder , says the board had
become divided and decided to take a different path other than the one laid out by Friedlander.
Hernandez was treasurer for Round Meadow Elementary for three years and
He quickly moved up the organization ladder, became co-chair of the upcoming T.H.E. event gala fundraiser, and is now strategizing for the upcoming school year.
Patch recently sat down with Hernandez, owner of Brent's Delicatessen in Westlake, and Jessica Nedick, T.H.E.'s vice president of marketing & communications, at Brent's for an in-depth interview.
Patch: What is your strategy for the foundation?
Marc Hernandez: We are focusing on building support from the community, the P.F.A.'s, the teachers, parents. We're basically working from the ground up ... We decided that we are not a fundraising arm of the district but rather a fundraising arm of the community ... At first we were getting a lot of pressure to raise money right away,but I said, 'Let's take a step back and figure out where we're going.' Let's be strategic and focus on getting the right people, getting them in the right seats inside the organization. We didn't have the right structure right away.
Patch: Are you following any other successful fundraising models?
Hernandez: We started meeting with other educational foundations to find out how they did it, 'cause there's no sense in us recreating the wheel. We're behind the times. A lot of these [successful] organizations started 30 years ago when Proposition 13 came out. So, we talked to P.F.A. leadership and teachers to find out how they gathered their communities together.
Patch: Who did you look at?
Hernandez: Manhattan Beach, San Marino and we'll next be visiting Palos Verdes [along with members of the district], which has a similar make up to [Las Virgenes Unified]. Las Virgenes is a multiple city district–Westlake, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Bell Canyon and parts of Woodland Hills. We need to unify everyone around the idea that we are a k-12 district and not just individual schools.
Patch: What are your goals?
Hernandez: First we have a master agreement with the district to raise money. So we have a committee that consists of our board, the board of education and the district. We had to decide what are the main needs of the district around which we can rally, and we decided that's adding more teachers and classroom size reduction.
Patch: How do you plan to reach those goals and do you have a specific amount you want to raise?
Hernandez: I don't want to give a number, because what's fundamental for us right now is to educate the community ... We are facing some major problems ... but beyond raising money, we also want to raise the bar to true excellence ... [Because of state cutbacks to education], our state of education is slowly slipping away year after year.
The district is down about $5 million over the last five years. With that being said, we at least want that back and to raise the bar ... The district has been deficit spending for years now ... and what will happen is they'll hit a point where there's no more reserve. That's what's about to happen [in the next school year]. The district has done a good job given the constraints put on them ... but quality education is no longer free.
Jessica Nedick: We'd like to be raising significant revenue right now, but in order to get to that place, we need to seed our message substantially, so when we do go after the community with these strategic plans, we're on the same issue–to protect LVUSD as a district.
Patch: How are you informing the public?
Hernandez: We put together a brochure and sent it out to the community a few weeks ago. We also plan on working with each of the schools to hold individual, educational fundraising events at people's houses, putting together core groups who will meet with members of the board to educate.
Nedick: Public school fundraising is layered. We need to educate first so people can then draw their own conclusions ... We live in a district that does a great job in education, but there's been some hold-back of information to what's actually going on ... We tend to minimize the problems we're facing and there's been a band-aid effect. Whenever they tell us we're facing troubles, they seem to figure it out in the end [to some extent]. Everyone has gotten accustomed to having less and less, but what we're saying is that's not okay anymore. There's going to be a lot more of less and less.
Hernandez: About four years ago, the district said that we were facing big problems and then all those pink slips that [were handed out] were rescinded. Many people think that the district crying wolf. But what many don't know is that, [after announcing the problem and unbeknownst to them], the district received about $10 million in federal stimulus money ... which has already been spent.
Patch: What can people expect from ?
Hernandez: So far we've sold 55 tables, and that's already 600 people. We're expecting to sell out at 1100 people ... There's going to be 25 different restaurants offering food and 15-20 wineries and breweries on site. Chris Harrison from The Bachelor is our emcee ...The Band from TV is the entertainment and [actor/band member] Greg Grunberg, [whose kids attend school in the district], is our honorary chair. Normally, this group charges $100,000 per booking, but they're doing this for free. It has definitely brought out the best in our community.
Our goal for this event is twofold. First we hope to bring in and educate the business community ... and we're also hoping to galvanize people from different communities to break down the boundaries and get them to understand that we are all working towards one goal ... This is about Las Virgenes, it's about k-12.
Patch: What are your long-term plans?
Nedick: We are in the process of putting together our strategy that crosses the different constituents, which includes a media campaign. We're starting with the [catch phrase]"Are You In?"... In addition, we sent out letters to parents in the district just before spring break to let them know we are in trouble and to ask for donations ... we're already getting a great response.
Hernandez: This is what everyone should know: Every teacher who's retiring and every teacher currently on a one-year contract will not be returning, that's 14 fewer teachers next year. Also, to help balance the budget, the district will have to cut five school days from the school year. And that's just for the 2012-13 calendar. Unless something is done, it'll get much worse. There will be no more reserve on which to draw.
For more information, to get involved or to donate to T.H.E., go to their website and Facebook page.