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Students make their way to the first day of school at Sherwood Park Elementary School in North Vancouver, B.C., on Sept. 22, 2014.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Private donations are heavily subsidizing everything from hot-lunch programs to playground construction at some of Vancouver's poorest schools, new data show.

Vancouver schools are getting money outside the funds allotted to them from school districts: Large-scale donations from corporations, foundations and alumni are big contributors in underprivileged areas.

"It used to be the argument that an inner-city school couldn't possibly raise any funds," said Christopher Richardson, chairman of the Vancouver School Board.

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"The reality is in fact that they may be the most likely to raise funds because they have that compelling story that causes a donor to say, 'I'd like to support that.' "

The data, compiled by the Vancouver School Board and provided to The Globe and Mail on request, shows Grandview Elementary raised the most money per student last year. A 2014 report by the VSB identified the school as having the third-highest poverty concentration of all elementary schools.

Grandview Elementary, situated on the city's east side, north of Broadway and between Clark and Commercial Drive, far exceeded all other schools, bringing in more than $76,000 in tax-receipted donations in 2013-2014, the equivalent of $500 per student.

(Go here for a sortable list of fundraising totals at all Vancouver schools)

In fact, Grandview, Queen Alexandra Elementary and Admiral Seymour Elementary – all of them in the same general vicinity – have some of the highest poverty concentrations in the city. In terms of elementary-school fundraising, they are ranked one, two and three respectively.

Fundraising at public schools has climbed steadily over the past three years, going from a total of $690,645 to $1,163,762 at elementary schools, and from $306,264 to $760,734 at the secondary level. The median funding at elementary schools came in at just under $19 per student compared with $30 per student at high schools.

The majority of Grandview's funding can be attributed to three sources: the Royal Bank; Breakfast for Learning, a charity founded by Canadian Living magazine; and the Vancouver Sun's Adopt-a-School program. A 2014 report by the VSB identified the school as having 43.7 per cent of its students' families on income assistance.

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While poorer schools often turn to businesses or foundations, many in higher-income areas are appealing to parents for support.

Queen Elizabeth Elementary in the west end raised the equivalent of $27 per student last year, all based on direct appeals from the parent advisory council.

Funds are often given in lump sums, sometimes for one-off projects, so the amounts can fluctuate significantly each year.

Waverley Elementary, also on the city's east side near 49th and Victoria Drive, raised only $500 in 2012-13, but then brought in more than $70,000 last year. Almost all of it – $60,000 – came from the Charros Foundation to help build a new playground.

Nearby David Thompson Secondary brought in $170,000 last year, all from two alumni who wanted to offer postsecondary scholarships.

Since the data are based on tax-receipted donations, any contributions under $25 wouldn't be reflected. Those smaller amounts are collected from initiatives such as bake sales and pizza lunches.

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In addition to the donations to individual schools, the board also directly received more than $800,000 in donations in 2013-14, though the VSB data do not specify where the money came from.

Grouped together, $2.7-million in tax-receipted contributions were given to the board, elementary and secondary schools last year, an increase of 28 per cent from the previous year.

Mr. Richardson says he thinks there's plenty of room for growth in school fundraising.

He compared some of the current sentiment around fundraising at schools to that of hospitals 20 years ago, where there was concern it would let the provincial governments off the hook.

Today, he said, hospital fundraising is an accepted reality.

"I think we're just late to the table," he said.

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