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Public schools, private giving

In this season of good will, urban schools in search of sound roofing and adequate texts could be excused for wishing to find their way onto a "must give" list of favored charities.

In Seattle, the eloquent son of a school superintendent helped students and educators do just that.

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Earlier this month, Scott Stanford moved a city with his tribute to his father, John, who died recently after three-plus years at the helm of city schools. His high-octane, can-do stint enthralled residents. And it got a growing number of them behind the urban schools - a movement that Scott Stanford urged Seattle residents to sustain.

This may have been a year that's recorded the public's mushrooming dissatisfaction with public schools. It may have marked their growing willingness to consider using public money to fund private education.

But you wouldn't know that from Seattle. Instead of exhibiting the indifference many hold toward the schools that serve large numbers of American kids and are key to a city's quality of life, residents have stepped forward to help.

Small donations have poured in - along with some eye-catching ones. Roger and Annette Rieger pledged $1 million to the Alliance for Education, a nonprofit that helps Seattle schools. Their gesture followed another $1 million donation by Don and Melissa Nielsen and a $2.5 million gift from businessman Craig McCaw.

It's a phenomenon not limited to Seattle. Other states have seen high-profile gifts as well. Jerry Seinfeld donated proceeds from a Broadway run to New York City schools. Idaho schools found themselves with an additional $110 million to work with, courtesy of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

Educators know theirs is not a glitzy cause. Sure, they may be high on voters' minds. And states are indeed boosting budgets to better match legislators' demands for higher academic performance.

But schools understand they aren't the Patriots, for whom Connecticut legislators ponied up $375 million in return for lots of hype and few promises. They know they're not prisons, for which New York State added more than $750 million to the budget over the past decade, while deducting a similar amount from the coffers of higher education.

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Schools do know, though, that they are pillars of the community, ones that can keep a place vibrant. And they can take heart in the recognition that comes from people catching the spirit of a John Stanford's vision - and acting on it.

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