Education Angel Bridges the Gaps

The Alameda Education Foundation helps Alameda public school students receive a richer education experience.


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Vicki Sedlack keeps busy as the executive director of the Alameda Education Foundation.

Photo by Chris Duffey

Imagine Alameda schools without art supplies or musical instruments. Envision math classes lacking compasses, protractors, and calculators; science labs barren of computers and robotics instruction; and deserted volleyball and basketball courts and track fields.

That is not the case in Alameda’s budget-strapped public schools, in part because of the foresight of parents in the early 1980s who stepped up after Proposition 13 decimated public school funding. It was in 1978 that Prop. 13 changed public school funding, decreasing property taxes dramatically by assessing property values at their 1975 level, severely limiting annual increases, and requiring a two-thirds majority vote for local special tax increases. California districts had to make hard choices about programs and curriculum. Arts and music were among the first programs to go, and other nonessential academic subjects, like sports, followed.

People and parents sensed a loss, and in response to the funding crisis, nonprofit “education foundations” popped up all over the state to lessen the blows. Alameda was no exception. In 1982, Alameda parents and community leaders founded the Foundation for Educational Excellence—today’s Alameda Education Foundation—to help the Alameda Unified School District schools fill the budgeting gap to the tune of about $800,000 annually.

“Parents wanted their kids to have arts and music education,” said Vicki Sedlack, the foundation’s executive director. “Today, we’ve expanded to offer computer coding classes, robotics classes, solar energy classes, Mandarin, and Spanish classes.”

Like other education foundations around the state, AEF was created to support the academic, athletic, creative, and social growth of Alameda’s public school students by dedicating financial resources to music, drama, sports, foreign languages, science, technology, counseling, and other programs.

“We’ve gone beyond the basic enrichment to offer things for kids that could be something that could lead to career possibilities,” Sedlack said.

The foundation spends more than half of its budget—$487,000 in the last school year—on after-school enrichment programs, sponsoring 271 after-school classes for 4,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It also funds active summer camps for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. “We handle all the administrative work, scheduling, and contracts with instructors,” Sedlack said.

The foundation’s Adopt a Classroom program gives teachers $500 grants to buy items they need for their classrooms; last school year it awarded 189 teachers a total of $94,500. Through another successful program, Equipped for Success, the foundation provides backpacks and school supplies to Alameda public school students. The foundation completes the circle by earmarking money for middle school sports.

Anselmo Reis, the music teacher at Wood Middle School, has received foundation classroom grants the past three years. The grants have allowed him to buy 14 music stands, new band music, and replace an instrument that was beyond repair. “There isn’t a budget for music classes at our school,” Reis said. “AEF helps keep music in our schools by filling basic needs that otherwise could not be attained through other sources. They are the angels of this island.”

Michael Lamb, chairman of Alameda High School’s math department, received a classroom grant last school year. “I used the money to purchase a stapler, overhead transparencies, a tablet for writing on PDF documents from a wireless remote tablet, batteries for student calculators, ruled paper, and pencils.”

This school year, AEF has donated 20 four-function calculators for use in the lower level math classes at Alameda High. Lamb said the department also has periodically received notebooks, graphing calculators, paper, compasses, and protractors from the foundation. Most importantly, Lamb said, the funding allows teachers to comply with the Williams Act, which requires school districts to provide necessary materials to all students who can’t provide them for themselves.

Lamb said that when he asks the foundation for additional support, the organization always come through. “AEF is a partner who has the students’ and my backs,” he said. “AEF is a group of kind and generous community members who believe in the future of our children and the positive impact that education has upon a young persons’ life and self-esteem.”

Even seven years after the Great Recession, AUSD’s state funding hasn’t returned to 2008 levels. “AEF is crucial to provide us those things that we can’t pay for,” said district Superintendent Sean McPhetridge, noting that California ranked 46th in per student state spending in 2011-12, the latest year for which figures are available. “We’re the seventh-largest economy in the world, but rank in the bottom 5 percent of education funding. It’s not right.”

Last year, the foundation’s Equipped for Success program spent $45,000 to provide 1,016 Alameda students—more than 10 percent of the district’s student body—with backpacks and school supplies they lacked at the beginning of the school year. This school year, that figure was $35,000 for 990 students.

“In the United States, an average family spends $109 on school supplies for one child, and AEF spends between $50 and $75 per student in the program,” Sedlack said.

McPhetridge witnessed the impact the gift of a backpack can have on children at a Woodstock Child Development Center preschool graduation ceremony in August. “The kids were much more excited about backpacks than anything else,” he said. “When you have something given to you that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, that’s transformative.”

The AEF Middle School Sports program runs volleyball, basketball, and track programs. In the 2014-15 school year, the foundation spent $63,000 on the program. “A lot of these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to do sports without it,” McPhetridge said. “We provide the space, but AEF organizes it and takes care of the logistics.”

Sedlack, who was an AEF board member from 2002-05, took over the track program in 2009. She said she was drawn to AEF’s goal of equity in education and specifically helping to reach disadvantaged kids on the West End. “Being school-based, we are able to reach kids at school who wouldn’t have been exposed to a sport until sixth grade,” she said.

AEF’s budget has doubled in 10 years, from $400,000 in 2005 to $800,000 in 2015. But it has not always been smooth sailing for the foundation.

In 2009, as the economic crisis hit, Count Me In Corp., an online class registration company that AEF had hired for its classes, went belly up. The foundation lost $80,000 and almost had to close its doors. Executive Director Brooke Briggance had to be laid off, and office manager Nora Toy-Desmond kept the program running. “We learned that our strength is running and coordinating programs. We started running it more like a business,” Sedlack said.

For now that’s working. For 33 years and counting, the foundation has made significant financial contributions to Alameda students in the wake of Proposition 13’s reduction to their school district’s budgets.

“They are a great partner,” McPhetridge said. “I’m really grateful for them.”

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