Friday, April 27, 2007


by Dan Basalone & Scott Folsom | from the AALA Newsletter

• Basalone is the Executive Director of Associated Administrators of LA (AALA – The LAUSD Principals’ Union); Folsom is President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTA/PTSA

Week of April 23, 2007 There was a scary article in the Wall Street Journal on March 29, 2007, with the provocative headline: PARENTS REBEL AGAINST SCHOOL FUNDRAISERS. If this shocks you and makes you throw up your hands and bemoan the end of the world as we know it, this article is targeted directly to you!

Before we go any further, let’s tell you who we are. This article has two authors, both of us are parents. Dan is a former principal, and Scott is a PTA president. We believe in the teamwork of parents, administrators and teachers in education, and in public education itself, big time! We do not subscribe to the doctrine that says public education is currently failing American youth—nor are we comfortable with the status quo or hark back to some mythical golden age when everything was just swell. We were there, it wasn’t! The education of American youth and the reform of American education–-like laundry and painting the Golden Gate Bridge-are challenges that will never be completed.

Text Box-AN OBSERVATION: The PTA bake sale--a sacred institution--is the world’s most dubious economic model: Parents bake food at their own expense, using their own ingredients and investing their own time--then sell it to themselves and contribute the income to the school! Both Karl Marx and Adam Smith are scratching their heads!

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two figures in history who really couldn’t stand each other until late in life, agreed that the education of youth was a paramount mission of the new democracy. Indeed, free public education is probably America’s greatest contribution to democracy. We have passed from the colonial “publick schools” and the one-room schoolhouses of Mark Twain’s memory to progressive schools as espoused by John Dewey to the factory models of the twentieth century and now to small school learning communities and standards-based instruction. We have gone from McGuffey to Dick and Jane through phonics and whole language to Open Court.

That being said, the one invariable has been the home-school connection. So when parents rebel against school fundraising, there must be some fundamental disconnect, right? Parents must be missing some point, not wanting to pay their fair share? Wrong!

More and more parents are being asked to pay for stuff like teacher’s salaries, copier paper, paper towels, and toilet paper–that should be paid for by the schools! If some parent wants to donate a few books to the library, that’s one thing, but when parents must band together to buy all the books and pay for the librarian’s salary, that’s too much! Field trips to museums should be paid from a school’s educational budget, not from the bake sale money. PTAs should be raising funds to support PTA programs like parent education, after school programs and legislative advocacy–not to make up for budget shortfalls at their schools.

Scott cites twice in his PTA career where schools have had photocopy machines wear out on his watch — a modern school without a Xerox machine is plumb out of business! Principals (sorry Dan!) have come hat in hand to PTA for a couple of thousand bucks. They appealed that the school district and the school itself have no budget line item for worn out copiers–the PTAs or the booster clubs must come through with the candy/gift wrap/cookie “dough”!

Over the last few decades, parents have demanded equality of funding and services in our schools so that less wealthy schools and districts were not treated unfairly within the public school system. Serrano v. Priest, Rodriguez Consent Decree, and Chanda Smith Consent Decree were litigated in response to this demand for equality, and the parents won in all cases. Fundraising is by its very nature more profitable in those schools and districts with more socioeconomic wealth and where parents are relatively free to volunteer their time in schools. School districts and the state have an obligation to provide a free and equal public education for all their students. Does this apply to fundraising inequities?

How do they do this at schools in poor neighborhoods you ask–where the parents can’t afford cookie dough and gift wrap–or to pay for cupcakes twice? They pay for it from Title I funds! But we have news for all: Title I funds are supposed to augment a school’s education budget, paying for stuff that’s lacking in the program, and not replacing the school’s worn out copier! Sooner or later government auditors with sharp little pencils and green eyeshades – or congressional fact finders out for some headline ink – are going to question where schools and districts spent their Title I funds. We spent it on stuff the state should’ve been paying for” is not a good answer!

School fundraising is big business–and it’s a for-profit one that makes a lot of income for the fundraising companies. Schools often receive, on average, less than 50% of the money raised, according to the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers, the industry’s own trade group. Much of the product sold, be it cookies, candy, chocolate, pizza dough, doughnuts, etc., are of dubious (or negative) nutritional merit, the gift wrap is expensive, and do we really need all these magazine subscriptions? The big businesses that engage in school fundraising leverage a large unpaid and highly motivated sales and distribution network (parents)–and their marketing scheme generally avoids collecting and paying state and local sales taxes.

A survey released recently by the National Association of Elementary School Principals reports:

· Eighty-five percent of the principals responded that they have seen an increased need for school wide fundraisers within the last decade;

· 56 percent have concerns about this increase;

· 64 percent would stop fundraising if they could.

· In 67 percent of the schools, PTAs/PTOs are responsible for fundraising.

· 35 percent report that their school's average annual earnings from fundraisers are between $10,000-25,000. Although a much smaller percentage, 3 percent, have seen average annual earnings from fundraising exceed $75,000.

· 20 percent hold 5-10 fundraisers a year; and 3 percent hold 10-15.

Many principals believe fundraisers have become too much of a distraction to the school's instructional day. A common theme in many of the principals' comments is that fundraisers place too much pressure on young children to sell products, and can also be burdensome to teachers, parents, and community members.

"Until our schools begin receiving the appropriate funding necessary to purchase these resources, which in many cases are very basic items that all schools should have, we will continue to see an increase in the number of fundraisers," says NAESP's executive director, Vincent L. Ferrandino.

National PTA advises local PTAs to have three ‘non-fundraiser’ events for every fundraiser; due to pressure from school budget shortfalls many PTAs find themselves with that equation reversed.

Because of PTAs unique position of being independent of schools and school districts, PTAs keep funds they raise separate from the student body funds. Some principals feel threatened by this–feeling an entitlement to control funds raised on campus. The reality is that “student body funds” are kept in school district bank accounts and are subject to the restrictions of and attachment by the school district itself. PTA accounts are fully insured against fraud and mismanagement; as 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, their books are fully open by law. This is not always true of “PTOthers” or booster clubs – for that reason district policy requires that all funds from these organizations raised on campus be deposited in student body accounts.

There are many other strategies to address fundraising; School Book Fairs that put books into kids’ hands–and usually benefit school libraries–are win-wins. Box top gathering and programs conducted by supermarkets, credit card companies or retail stores (Target comes to mind) that contribute a small percentage of receipts to schools are excellent. And it may be easier for all to solicit ten dollars than sell twenty dollars worth of unneeded merchandise.

In the end we have to agree with NAESP’s Ferrandino: "Until our schools begin receiving the appropriate funding necessary to purchase these resources, which in many cases are very basic items that all schools should have, we will continue to see an increase in the number of fundraisers.” Maybe we all (teachers, principals and parents) need to say enough already; The System needs to be paying for the very basic resources that all schools should have!

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