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SR district support group adds younger members, gets busy in response to budget crisis

  • Schools Plus board members, from front left: Amy Chiurco, Jill Peterson, Cortney Burke; middle, Tracy Weitzenberg, Ashley Haskins, Patrick Stelzner, Brendan Kunkle; rear, Bill Stirnus.

It was the prospect of losing spring sports from Santa Rosa City Schools two decades ago that launched SchoolsPlus.

When that specter returned to threaten the 2011 sports season, SchoolsPlus members used it as an opportunity to step up and branch out. They recruited a whopping 15 new board members and reignited a group that even stalwart supporters agreed had in recent years lost some of its fire.

"We always knew that we were going to have to get the operating board reinvented and re-energized. It was last winter's headlines that were the impetus," said founding president and current board member John Bribiescas.

Longtime backers have overseen the distribution of more than $2 million to Santa Rosa's middle and high school sports, music, arts and theater programs. They hit the community in search of next-generation leaders and found them in spades.

"Most of them ... grew up in Santa Rosa, and they benefited from SchoolsPlus back in the early '90s. They know it's their watch," Bribiescas said.

Jill Peterson, a 1995 Montgomery High graduate, is a second-generation SchoolsPlus booster. Her mother, Diane Keegan, was a founding member in 1990.

"Even way back then, I knew how important it was for all of us kids that our parents were doing it," Peterson said. "As I have grown up, things kind of died down a little bit with SchoolsPlus. I'm now a mother myself. I could not even imagine what my kids' lives would be like without those opportunities."

SchoolsPlus is not a typical booster group that focuses on an individual campus.

The organization spreads its donations evenly among Santa Rosa's campuses to ensure that league play and events continue even through dire budgetary difficulties.

SchoolsPlus pumped up that annual contribution this year after the school board eliminated $250,000 in spring sports funding for middle and high school athletes.


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