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School district ponders Outdoor School funding puzzle

To send every Portland Public Schools sixth-grader to Outdoor School for the full six-day experience this fall, fundraisers will have to rake in $509,000 during the next month.

That sum is the district's gap in funding for the program, according to new budget numbers obtained this week by the Portland Tribune.

Early this summer, the district chopped the beloved, long-running Outdoor School program from six to three days while making budget cuts for this fall.

An army of students, parents and community members have since formed a 'Save Outdoor School' movement, which is working on dozens of fundraising efforts this summer alongside the nonprofit Friends of Outdoor School and Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, since Metro subsidizes a portion of the funds.

But one other party is now also working to restore the program to full-strength: the school district itself. They're looking to create partnerships that will bring in community and corporate support for the budget gap.

'We're creating short- and long-term strategies to address the funding,' PPS partnership coordinator Andre Jackson told The Tribune this week.

'The (budget) gap's going to most likely be there next year. So how do we begin to work with our community partners in a way that benefit both their organizations as well as achieve our goal, which is to eventually reach nights (of Outdoor School) again?'

Two out-of-the-box ideas are in the works:

• Working with local grocers to potentially have every 50 cents of a gallon of milk, for example, go directly toward supporting Outdoor School.

'We have to attach the funding to a commodity,' Jackson explains. Milk 'is used every day, something everyone needs to buy frequently. That could really add up.'

To make it worthwhile for the grocer, Jackson says, companies like Clear Channel or Comcast could be brought in to offer discounts for grocers' advertising rates.

'We're essentially moving some dollars from areas they'd normally spend for support,' Jackson says.

• Organizing an annual 'Run for Literacy' event, beginning September 2012 rather than this fall in order to get all of the pieces in place.

Proceeds from the event - namely corporate sponsorships - would be a consistent source of funding for literacy programs in the schools as well as Outdoor School, since literacy is part of the curriculum.

Jackson says it's an 'easy sell' to local companies; he's already secured big names including Comcast, Target, Starbucks, Nike, Qdoba and Columbia Sportswear.

The 15-kilometer event (an individual or three-person relay) and 5-kilometer run/walk would operate similar to the Shamrock Run and other long-standing events, with an entry fee, race numbers and big finish line gathering.

'Here we have 46,000 kids (enrolled). If we get 10 percent of them, and parents, and all the other die-hard runners and walkers in city of Portland, it could be very successful.'

There's a chance the fundraising pieces won't come together to restore Outdoor School to six days in time for this fall. But PPS is focused on the long-term issue.

'We see this as one of our opportunity to bring in resources in a Portland way,' says Jackson. 'Putting on these events is the Portland way.'

One of those upcoming events, hosted by the 'Save Outdoor School' group, is an 'Ultimate ODS Campfire,' featuring 'best-of' campfire performances by students and staff of all ages.

It's set for 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 30, 7020 S.E. Brooklyn St. A suggested donation of $5 goes to Outdoor School. RSVP to Rachel "Radish" Byron-Law, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or Kira "Karma" Atwood-Youngstrom, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For more information, see http://pdxods.org/.

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