A wealthy La Jolla philanthropist with close ties to the charter school movement has joined with Microsoft founder Bill Gates to help support a Texas–based nonprofit corporation dedicated to developing so-called hybrid public-private charter schools. The move marks one of the bigger contributions that R.B. “Buzz” Woolley, long a donor to pro–charter school legislative candidates and other related political and lobbying activities, has given directly to the charter school cause. The venture, Pollinate Ventures, received $451,125 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in November 2009. Last year, Woolley’s Girard Foundation, with assets of about $18.6 million, contributed $181,000 to Pollinate, according to Girard’s most recent federal disclosure, dated this May. Other Girard contributions in 2010 included $100,000 to San Diego’s Health Sciences High and Middle College, a health-care vocational school. “In partnership with Sharp Healthcare, SDSU professors, and San Diego Community College,” according to the school’s website, “staff will ensure that each student has positive and meaningful experiences throughout high school while achieving academic and social success in a vocational program setting.” The institution has been referenced by the Voice of San Diego, a local online news and politics site founded by Woolley and to which Girard gave $22,000 last year, according to the foundation’s disclosure.
In addition, Girard gave the California Charter Schools Association $10,000; the Classical Academy High School $5000; the Elementary Institute of Science $15,000; Gompers Preparatory Academy $26,350; and North County Trade Tech High $25,000. In all, Girard handed out $653,725, and its program director, Susan Wolking, was paid $102,750 in salary and benefits.
On the political front, meanwhile, Woolley personally donated $6500 to the California Charter Schools PAC in March and $25,000 to the Alliance of California Charter Schools Independent Expenditure Committee in June. In May, he also kicked in $10,000 for Californians Against Special Interests, a primarily GOP group mounting an initiative for a so-called paycheck-protection measure banning direct deductions of labor union dues.