To answer our “who, how, and what” questions regarding private giving to pub lic schools, we selected a sample of schools and districts that represent1 the di versity of the student population and communities within Los Angeles County. Our site visits gave us the opportunity to question school and school district per sonnel about their fund-raising activities. Our belief was that we could learn more from personal interviews than from the data that currently exist. This type of research methodology is particularly well suited to exploratory analysis because it allows a researcher to ask more open-ended questions and develop hypotheses that can be studied in greater depth in future research.
In this chapter, we describe our process for choosing the sample and conducting interviews with school and district personnel. The results of our analysis will not only help us develop hypotheses for future research, but also build a foundation for survey instrument development and provide descriptive details of private giving to public schools.
Los Angeles County is one of the most heavily populated and diverse counties in the United States. Similarly, the school districts within the county are diverse, in both their size and demographics. In total, there are more than 1.6 million stu dents in close to 1,700 schools in 83 districts in Los Angeles County. Among those districts is the second-largest one in the United States—the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). In the 1998–1999 school year, LAUSD had close to 700,000 students and a total annual budget of $4.27 billion. In contrast, both by size and budget, Gorman Elementary School District in Los Angeles County had at the time of our study just over 100 students and a budget of just $1.1 million.
In addition to their differences in size, districts within Los Angeles County are racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. However, districts and schools are often highly segregated across demographic characteristics. In nearly half the districts, more than 70 percent of the student population is in a single____________________