2014 / Planning

Why donate to your school's foundation.

I took a tour this morning of my daughter’s soon to be kindergarten class and came out realizing how lucky many of us in Marin are to have such great public school options in our neighborhood.

The morning started out with a guitar performance from an upper school elective music class. It was followed by a tour of the kindergarten class where we saw two teachers and a parent volunteer doing an art project with the class. We then visited a first grade class where the students were working on iPads and computers on a reading and writing project, while others were being pulled out for speech therapy. After, we went to the computer café were 4th grade students where in front of shiny new iMacs, doing a project on Google Docs. Then it was off to the gym to see a ropes course in a PE class and then back to the art room to see an integrated Spanish and English art class where the teachers were discussing the science of mixing colors to 1st graders.

These classes are not the norm around the state of California, where we rank 49th nationally in funding per student. These programs happen in our schools because we are lucky to have such strong school foundations in the County. Most of the school foundations were started up in the 90’s as it became apparent that public funding alone could not adequately finance the level of education wanted by Marin families.

When I look at what the school's foundation is asking me to give for my kindergartener, it looks like the best deal in town compared to the option of private school.

The Foundation at Ross School requests a donation of $3,400 per student – which at first seemed surprisingly high, considering all of us are already paying a parcel tax that we thought was helping to cover the cost of our childrens' educations. As I dug deeper into it, the Parcel Tax covers only 10% of the cost of educating our students. What is crazy about that tax is that my neighbors, who have no children in school anymore, are paying for my kids’ education. (We need to remember to thank them the next time we see them in the neighborhood!) I also realized that all the school districts in the county have an outstanding school bond or some type of parcel tax. So, if I want to live in Marin, I am paying for these taxes whether my kids go to the public school or end up at a private school.

So why is this donation of $3,400 the best deal in town? Let's look at the real cost and then look at my options.

My donation of $3,400 is tax deductible. So if my wife and I make between $72K and $146K, I will get a rebate off of my taxes of 25% of that donation, which comes out to $850. So the net cost of my donation is $2,550 ($3,400-$850) or $213 per month. This does not even include the fact that if I gift appreciated stock, that cost goes down even more. If you and your spouse are making over $146K, the cost goes down as well because your deduction on your taxes is worth more when you are in a higher tax bracket.

Compare that cost of kindergarten to my alma mater St. Marks School in San Rafael, where kindergarten tuition this year is at $26,093. That is a cost of $2,174 per month and also is before the donation they ask from their parent body. This is over 10x higher than the ask from my public school's foundation!

This is why I feel that our donations to our school foundations are the best deal in town. Think about it... $213 per month vs $2,174?

To me this is a no brainer - and I am not even including the benefits of a public school community with the ability to walk to school and have all your children’s friends in the neighborhood.

I know that $213 is not spare change. Economics and spending habits are all about choices. But the gift to our school’s foundation is an easy choice for me to make.
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