Mayor London Breed reads to Buena Vista Horace Mann students. Photo by Julian Mark 2018

Buena Vista Horace Mann’s Parent Teacher Association is once again hosting its long-running fundraising event: La Gran Pachanga, a big party with live music, dancing — and this year — views of the downtown skyline and the Bay as the party goes big on the 30th floor of the Salesforce East building.

The $60 ticket for the March 16 event includes food from Taste Catering, drinks and live music by Danilo y Olga of Danilo y Orquesta Universal, a local Latin music group. Tickets will only be sold in advance of the event.

The school has a tradition of raising money through La Gran Pachanga that predates the merger of the K-8 community school, but the event had recently lost momentum.

When Phyra McCandless heard that it wasn’t held last year, she did what many creative-minded parents would do: she took her fundraising and nonprofit experience to lead the ambitious fundraising event of raising $20,000 for the PTA budget.

She and her husband, Angelos Kottas, are using La Gran Pachanga to raise the profile of the school and its visibility in the community. “It’s a school that deserves a spotlight,” said Kottas.

Finding a space big enough to host the event proved to be a bit of a challenge. “It would have been nice to do it in the Mission near the school,” said McCandless. “But we also have other events at the school, and this is more of a 21+ party.” She originally had her eye on Galería de La Raza, but the organization was later evicted from its longtime space.

After sending five or six inquiries to other nearby locations, Kottas, who works at Salesforce, knew that the company offered space for community groups. Once they received confirmation that they could use the Ohana Floor at no cost, the leadership team approved.

“The fact that it’s on the Ohana Floor, which means ‘family’ in Hawaiian…” said McCandless.

“ … but pachanga is a Cuban dance … ” said Kottas.

McCandless continued, “So if people are wondering how they should dress, think … ”

“ … island!” they said in unison.

In the months leading up to La Gran Pachanga, McCandless shared what she found to be an interesting discovery when asking for donations: she often met people with connections that led back to the school, whether they were alumni or alumni parents.

“No one says, ‘Oh, I had a horrible time at Horace Mann!’ They all say, ‘I went there!” or “Of course, I want to give to the school! I love the school,” she said. “So, it’s making an impact and it’s evident the community remembers and appreciates the school.”

In particular, Kottas said, they are focused on the sustainability of the event so that it continues to benefit the school in the years to come.

“For us, it’s a way to give back to the community and the community that our daughter is spending the majority of her time,” he said. And they’re happy to lead the effort, McCandless added.

The PTA budget is used to fund the dance, music and art teachers’ salaries, field trips and start-up funds for teachers who request specific supplies or instructional materials above and beyond what’s available through the school budget.

At present, the PTA budget is about $140,000 a year, said Kottas. Parent contributions are the biggest source of funds, but if La Gran Pachanga proves to be financially successful, it could potentially be the second biggest source of funds to sustain the programs that the PTA sponsors.

“To a certain extent, this is a really critical time for us to see how successful we can be because the budgeting process for the next school year is just kicking off,” said Kottas. “We can run a deficit this year if we need to, but we can’t do that in perpetuity.”

From 6 to 8 p.m., the agenda for the night of La Gran Pachanga will begin with a silent auction and transition to a live auction for some of the more unique prizes, like donated experiences by the teachers, “whom we consider to be priceless,” they said.

McCandless said there’s an opportunity to bid online for the items and experiences before the auctions. The online bidding website features passes to the Walt Disney Museum, Children’s Creativity Museum, Chabot Space & Science Center, Bay Area Discovery Museum, and tickets to the San Francisco Ballet’s 2019 Repertory Season, the SF Opera, SF Symphony, and a 49ers home game – among other museums, classes, and offers from local businesses.

The donated experiences by the teachers for the students include a personalized reading list, ice cream and books and a ceramics workshop.

The best chance to win an item or experience, however, is in person, as the auctions will be closed out at La Gran Pachanga. A local teacher, who is also an alumni parent of Buena Vista Horace Mann, will assume the role of the auctioneer.

A host committee was also recruited: Mayor London Breed, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, BVHM Principal Claudia Delarios Morán and Vice Principal Gissell Medina.

Due to conflicting schedules, Breed and Ronen will not attend, but Walton, the former board of education commissioner, and the school’s administrators will be present at La Gran Pachanga.

While they’re aiming to sell between 100 to 150 tickets to the event, free admission has been offered to the staff members at Buena Vista Horace Mann, so a good percentage of the attendees will be teachers of the school, said McCandless and Kottas.

“That’s good!” their first-grader chimed in.

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  1. Thank you for this great article from Jennifer Cortez and Mission Local!

    I’m part of the Buena Vista Horace Mann PTA, but I understand the concerns expressed by Tara here in the comments. A small number of SF public schools have a higher percentage of relatively privileged families, and are therefore able to raise PTA funds more easily. This can lead to inequities, as SF Public Press reported a few years ago. ( .

    However, Buena Vista Horace Mann serves mostly latiinx students, many of whom struggle economically in our increasingly bifurcated city. I have been happy to contribute by volunteering my time at the school, and by advocating for improved public education overall.

    Many people from diverse backgrounds work to make Buena Vista Horace Mann a special place. We are grateful to Phyra and Angelos for their excellent work in organizing La Gran Pachanga this year!

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  2. Our BVHM PTA is far from perfect, we do not bring in as much money as many schools in SF, and yet because we are lucky enough to have a PTA we are ahead of others. We are striving for equity within our school, hoping to give all the children arts programs and opportunities they could not get otherwise. Growing up, these are programs I was given fully-funded by my suburban school district’s tax dollars, not supported by PTA funds. Please consider supporting our public school in the heart of the Mission, we want all boats to rise. Until more middle & upper class people invest in public schools, by actually sending their kids to public schools, and we deliver more tax money to schools, this is our only option. PTAs do not cure inequity city-wide, but they can impact a single school greatly.

    I’m mad about the inequities in our city school system too.

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  3. To echo Kiki’s comments, BVHM is far from a community of privilege. The PTA plays a critical role in helping children and families at a Title 1 school where greater than 70% of the families are considered to be of challenged economic circumstances. This a chance to celebrate our diverse but unified community, rather than to take uninformed pot shots at parents who are trying to make a difference. Yes, I am one of those parents, and I have spent dozens of hours on evenings and weekends to demonstrate my support for public education.

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  4. Please check out the school data before making statements that are not true. BVHM is 80% Latino with a homeless shelter on site. I’m fairly certain the shelter is not for the hordes of privileged parents you seem to think attend the school. Those privileged parents are using their privilege and are doing their part to ensure Latino kids have access to the arts. Only someone completely miserable would take issue with that.

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  5. There is extreme inequity among schools due to this system of PTA supplemented budgets. Students at schools like BVHM that have a larger privileged population have more access to arts, etc because the PTA supplements the schools budget while students at schools with PTAs that struggle to raise a few thousand a year are not afforded those opportunities. It is not fair.

    I also take issue with the part of the article that says “she did what any creative-minded mother would do”. I know many amazing, creative minded mothers who do not possess the social networks nor do they have a spouse that works for Salesforce. This woman has the social capital to organize an event like this, not all creative-minded mothers have that.

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