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Calendar Exposes
School Financing Problems

When bake sales and walk-a-thons aren't enough to save critical school programs, what's a community to do? Members of the Long Tom Grange in Junction City, Oregon, found a solution: they "took it all off" and (discreetly) posed for a calendar that drew media attention -- and orders -- from around the world. Thrilled with the project's success, the grange men hope the calendar also will expose the naked truth about school financing. Included: A description of the calendar fundraising project.

The men of the Long Tom Grange, Junction City, Oregon.
(photo courtesy of Digital Dreams)

Bake sales long have been a mainstay of school fundraising efforts, but one Oregon community decided to market a different sort of "bun." Tired of watching budget cuts result in increased class size and shrinking programs in Junction City School District 69, 12 members of the local Long Tom Grange decided to bare it all for their schools.

The product of their civic mindedness is the Men of the Long Tom Grange Calendar. Advertised as a "shameless fundraising project for the public schools of Junction City, Oregon," the calendar features the grangers, all married and ages 45 to 70, posed mostly-- but discreetly -- naked.

Suddenly, Junction City is home to a year's worth of celebrities -- but the calendar men aren't complaining.

"We're up in that age category where we're not that concerned about appearances," explained Larry Engels, a contractor also known as Mr. April. "We're not going to win blue ribbons in any category. Plus, we're all hams. At least, I am. We'll soak up any fame that comes our way."

Fame is indeed raining down on the calendar crew. Coverage from national media including CNN and The Today Show spurred so much Internet traffic that the calendar Web site almost imploded. The group also negotiated with other talk show hosts, including Jay Leno, Sharon Osbourne, and Wayne Brady about possible appearances. And did someone say "movie?" It's not out of the question.

Not only that, but at $17 each, calendar sales are booming; and it looks like the photos of the grangers will be decorating homes in all 50 states and a few foreign countries.

Public response "is beyond our wildest expectations," said Robin Pfeiffer (Mr. March), a retired teacher and a vineyard owner. "We thought we might get more flak, but because it is for education, we haven't. The reception and support throughout the community and nation has been unanimous. We are flabbergasted and overwhelmed."

While enjoying the "exposure," the calendar men also know they are raising awareness of a serious issue. "About 50 percent of this is to highlight the plight of education," Pfeiffer said. "We're not trying to just raise money, but also to call attention to the situation so that they [state, federal governments] do something to fund education. People just can't go around dropping their drawers for the schools. We need help from the legislature and the voters."

DROPPING DRAWERS FOR A SERIOUS CAUSE

The idea for a calendar was proposed while grange members were brainstorming a fundraising project to help the local schools. Such programs as art and music were eliminated or sharply reduced because of budget cuts, and 20 of the districts 111 teachers were laid off before school started, according to Jim Bradshaw (aka Mr. August), a country club manager and member of the Junction City board of education.

"The fact is, the schools are where they are, and we can either point a finger at the legislature, hold out our hands to the taxpayers, or do something about it," Bradshaw told Education World.

"The community knew it needed something big," said Pfeiffer.

"Bake sales and garage sales did not even begin to fill the [financial] need," he said. "We know other districts around the county are struggling, but we decided to do what we could for our district. And everyone was 'thon-ed' [as in walk-a-thon] out."

The recession has hit Oregon particularly hard; the state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and because income taxes fund the schools, districts have seen state funding evaporate as the jobless rate swelled. Budget shortfalls forced some districts to end school early last year, and in one town, parents sold plasma to raise money for a teacher's salary.

Pfeiffer's wife, Danuta, proposed the calendar idea, inspired by the English women who created a similar calendar as a fundraiser several years ago.

Wives not only were supportive of the venture; in some cases, they were insistent. "One guy said his wife just told him he would do it," Robin Pfeiffer said.

To publicize the calendar -- before the national media got a hold of the project -- the wives of the grangers held a mock protest one day, carrying signs that said, "Ban the Buns," Engels added. "But they all are for it now, since it has taken off like a space shot."

Danuta Pfeiffer became the driving force behind the project, added Engels. "She was the major arm-twister," he said. "Then, once the ball got rolling, she knew what to do with it."

TAKING THE PLUNGE

Some of the men admitted to a little uneasiness when the time for the actual photo shoot got closer. "It was a good idea when we talked about it, but it's another thing when a photographer knocks on your door eight or nine months later," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said he requested August because that's his birthday month, "and I thought it would be warmer [to pose]. But they took all the pictures in one month, so there went that idea."

When it came time to volunteer, Pfeiffer said he had his hand up -- "a little bit" -- but offered to be photographed first so the others had no excuse to back out. "After I went, and they had their yucks, they went ahead and did it."

Engels said the photo shoot was not a problem. "We're just way beyond the embarrassment factor," he said. "[In the photos,] you can't see as much as you see in a swimming pool. Some of the guys even are in their clothes, which rankled me, since I had to take mine off."

EXPOSING A NATIONAL PROBLEM

The Junction City men are just hopeful that all the attention the calendar project is getting translates to a local and national commitment to revamp the way education is funded.

"The [Oregon] legislature has to come up with a stable funding source, so we don't have these dips [in revenue]," Bradshaw said.

At the same time, the desire of strangers to support the schools has been inspiring. "I've really been taken by the generosity of people all over the country," said Bradshaw. People who don't know anything about Junction City and its schools are ready to pay $17 for a calendar to help them out, he added.

Creative efforts like theirs do not solve the funding problem or its effect on education, however. "Frankly, I wish I could come up with a solution for that," Engels said. "Art and music classes get cut, and those are very important parts of life. I think they are watering down the classes because of a lack of resources, and the classes are larger, so students don't get enough attention."

The grange men want people to know that although creating the calendar was fun and probably will be profitable, when it comes to financing the schools, this is a stop-gap measure.

"We have made it really, really clear that we are putting our hand on a bleeding aorta," Pfeiffer said. "This is not going to save the patient."

 

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®    
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