Schools turn to fund-raisers to pay salaries

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With money tight and times tough, parents and teachers across the nation are holding fund-raisers to pay teachers' salaries and benefits.

Students at Belinder Elementary School in a Kansas City suburb brought in loose change and the proceeds from lemonade stands earlier this year to help pay the salaries of a nurse, counselor and foreign language teacher.

Parents and others in the community added to the donations, raising about $78,000 in two weeks. The school was one of six in the district that raised a total of $236,000 to help pay for positions that otherwise would have been reduced to part-time or eliminated as the district addressed a budget shortfall of more than $6 million for the 2002-03 academic year.

''No one would have dreamed that we'd be able to come up with the amount we did,'' said Belinder principal Karen Faucher.

Such fund-raisers have occurred elsewhere around the nation, and are expected to increase as state legislatures tackle tight budgets.

Two-thirds of states report falling revenues and more than half expect deficits in their fiscal 2003 budgets, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But the practice has been criticized by education groups.

''It says if you live in an affluent area and your parents can afford to donate, then you're going to get these extras,'' said Leslie Getzinger, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers. ''We want to see the system fair and the proper funding for all schools, and not create an unfair, inequitable situation.''

Pam Brady, vice president for education for the California State Parent Teacher Association, said fund raising for school salaries tends to increase when the economy tanks. She expects another burst of activity in coming months as her state slashes spending. California Gov. Gray Davis has proposed $10.2 billion in cuts, including deep reductions in education spending.

Still, Brady questioned the fund-raisers. ''If PTAs pick up the deficit,'' she said, ''when the good times return, what will happen then?''

In Washington state, fund raising for salaries often has filled the gap left when physical education and arts programs are cut, said Jean Carpenter, executive director of the state's Parent Teacher Association.

But she has noticed a worrisome change. Money was raised this year to pay for a teacher's aide for an elementary school in the suburban Seattle school district of Mercer Island.

''It's the beginning of what I think is a real frustration in the lack of will to fund education, and I'm hopeful it won't spread,'' she said. ''If this trend does continue, it's going to be totally inequitable for all children.''

The quality of education, she said, ''will depend on where you live and the income level of your PTA and your community.''

In the suburban Portland, Ore., district of Lake Oswego, a district foundation has raised nearly $400,000 during the past three years to pay salaries for 10 new teachers in their schools. The biggest fund-raiser of the year, says Nancy Duin, district spokeswoman, is a spring phone-a-thon staffed partly by volunteer high school students.

In the Manhattan Beach Unified School District near Los Angeles, a district foundation raised $440,000 this year to help pay for music and art staff. And district PTAs raised an additional $1 million, paying for the bulk of the elementary school's teacher's aides.

Superintendent Jerry Davis said he will ask for help again as he cuts an expected $1.5 million from the district's budget this year and about the same amount next year.

''They've always been responsive,'' he said of the community, where the average home is worth $900,000.

Davis said fund raising gained momentum in the early 1990s as residents grew weary of the state funding roller coaster.

''One year a kid gets music, the next year they don't,'' Davis said. ''What kind of program is that?''



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