Couple donates $271,000 to school

The Associated Press
Tuesday November 14, 2000

SAN JOSE — Robert Downs always dreamed of becoming a professor, but Bell Labs paid better and university jobs were scarce. 

Now 60, Downs never did teach. But he and his wife Sharon have contributed to the classroom in another way – by giving $271,000 to Washington Elementary, a needy San Jose school. The unsolicited donation has funded everything from an extra 30 minutes of class time each day and smaller class sizes to new computers, software and books. 

When Downs first called the school to ask about helping, principal Albert Moreno expected a nominal gift. 

“I always joke that we thought he wanted to give an old computer away.” 

Not quite. The gift is the largest ever from an individual to the San Jose Unified School Educational Foundation. 

“I do hope to encourage other to look at adopting a school,” said Downs, a San Jose resident. Downs grew up poor in Los Angeles and attended public school. He holds two degrees in mathematics – one each from the University of California, Los Angeles and UC Berkeley. After academia, he specialized in computers, running Combinet Inc., which was bought out in 1995 by Cisco Systems Inc. 

Downs and his wife want little in return for their donation: no buildings will be renamed after the couple and the school doesn’t even need to show that the money is helping matters on campus. 

But Moreno wants to show the Downs proof that their donation is helping and wants to show them improved test scores as early as next year. 

“That’s the thing,” Moreno said. “He didn’t have any agenda for himself. He wanted to help public schools.”