Although the stock market overall enjoyed a stellar 1999, attentive investors know that the broad gains in the market masked the fact that many individual stocks performed poorly. Now, one of those laggards, the grocery store chain Albertson’s Inc., has claimed a victim: school funding.

Albertson’s, the second-largest grocery store chain in the United States, accounts for nearly all of endowment of the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation. This 34-year-old foundation focuses its giving on K-12 education, and it has provided tens of millions of dollars to worthy programs in past years. However, with the price of Albertson stock dropping nearly in half last year—from $62.25 per share to $33—the foundation had no choice but to substantially reduce its projects in 2000.

“All of our programs will be affected,” said Chris Latter, the foundation’s spokeswoman, though she added that programs operating under multi-year grants would continue to receive the funds committed to them.

In the past, the foundation had supported school purchases of computer equipment, as well as training of teachers in the use of computers. The foundation also set as one of its priorities the funding of professional technical high schools that would prepare vocational-education students for high-tech careers.

The foundation owns about 20 million shares of Albertson’s stock. In 1998, when the grocery industry was undergoing consolidation and the largest companies were viewed positively on Wall Street, Albertson’s stock surged and raised the endowment’s worth to $1.2 billion. Now, it is worth less than $600 million.

School district officials in Idaho, who had counted on money from the foundation to help them equip six new high-tech vocational schools, now say that they will scale back their plans. Instead of stand-alone schools opening next year, Idaho districts will offer additional vocational courses in computer and network maintenance, high-tech car repair, and environmental professions.

“Albertson’s has been awfully good to us,” Jefferson School District Superintendent Larry Vandel told the Idaho Falls Post Register. “We’re grateful for what they’ve done, and we’re confident [that] their stock will return to a higher value.” n