February 1, 2013 | Back to: News

School nonprofits fill gaps created by budget cuts

With budget cuts sweeping through schools across the nation, reliance is increasing on fundraising and parent teacher associations’ support for students and materials for teachers.

“There is certainly a trend toward stepping up fundraising in school districts across the state,” said Marianne Cartan, Nevada Joint Union School District superintendent. “In light of the continuing challenges that the current fiscal environment presents to the district budget and school allocations, the district is developing a strategic plan for the purpose of increasing the level of fundraising and other ways to secure outside funding for our curricular and extracurricular programs.”

For example, uniforms for Chicago Park Elementary School’s sports teams are funded through donations, and roughly two-thirds of the performing arts music program is paid through the PTA and fundraising, said Chicago Park Principal and district Superintendent Dan Zeisler.

“It used to be that if the PTA couldn’t fund (it), the program could still happen,” Zeisler said. “Now it’s if you can’t provide the funding, we can’t have the program.”

There are differences in funding between charter schools and traditional schools. On average, charter schools receive 7 percent less funding than traditional schools, according to evaluations of a funding analysis by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“Charters face several unique challenges around funding that were not factored into the analysis, including access to school bonds, parcel taxes and short-term borrowing instruments, facilities costs and federal funding sources, such as special education,” the LAO’s website states.

Such a financial disparity has created extra dependency on fundraising for charter schools in particular, officials say.

“We have to fundraise in order to make it; it saves our schools,” said Janice Bedayn, development coordinator for Nevada City School of the Arts. “Charter schools for the most part are not given any facilities. We have 317 students, and the facility we are in is about $230,000 a year, which we have to pay for.”

Bedayn said an arts education makes for a well rounded student, and taking that away would reduce creativity in students.

“Taking arts out of education does a whole lot of things to kids,” Bedayn said. “It takes out the joy for one thing, so there’s more of a push toward facts and figures, and pushes the focus toward making test scores, so whatever creativity is completely stripped.”

Bear River High School relies heavily on fundraising for arts and athletics programs, its principal said.

“The trend has been increased reliance on fundraising for activities including athletics, band and drama,” said Jim Nieto, Bear River High School principal. “To help support the activities, different organizations will have different fundraisers. Some have booster clubs. Other programs will have sales.”

Pleasant Ridge School District Superintendent Britta Skavdahl said the reliance on fundraisers remains necessary in her district with an increased need to fund field trips.

“Traditionally, fundraisers have provided extra money for teachers to buy extra things for classrooms and school-wide types of assemblies and parties, largely responsible for the purchase of state-of-the-art technology,” Skavdahl said. “The whole move to having them fund field trips is exactly in response to budget cuts.”

According to Annette McTighe, administrative assistant to Nevada City School District Superintendent Roxanne Gilpatric, NCSD receives most of its fundraising money through the Parent Teacher Club at Deer Creek, the Parent Student Teacher Club at Seven Hills Middle School and the Nevada City Schools Foundation.

The Nevada City Schools Foundation provides board-approved donations to specific projects in various schools through funds raised from events, including the annual Moms on the Mountains hike, Bike Blast and Bike and Hike and the Falling Leaves Fun Run, along with its district-wide Scrips program, in which shoppers use frequent-shopper cards at grocery stores to earn money for schools. In 2011, $27,857 was given to Nevada City Charter School, Deer Creek Elementary and Seven Hills with $19,100 going toward computer and technology upgrades for all three schools, according to the foundation website.

Maura Devlin, Seven Hills Parent Student Teacher Club president, has worked with parent teacher clubs at the former Nevada City Elementary and Deer Creek Elementary for the past eight years and has seen fundraising opportunities help programs.

“We have contributed to computer hardware and software for our students and supplied technology upgrades for the classroom teachers,” Devlin said. “We contribute to playground and PE equipment, provide scholarships to ensure that all students can take part in field trips, and we defray the costs of field trips for all students. This past year, we were able to contribute to a new play structure for Seven Hills, which was important for the younger kids who now attend Seven Hills, starting in fifth grade.”

According to Deer Creek PTC President Laura van den Berg, fundraising has been increasingly necessary for her school.

“Usually we’d pay for things like recess equipment, and now we’re having to pay for things that are a bit more of a stretch, like playground improvements and things the district used to pay for,” van den Berg said. “If we didn’t raise money, we wouldn’t be able to have family fun night, the students wouldn’t have art supplies, or the teachers would have to pay out of pocket. There would no healthy kids program, which teaches kids healthy eating habits and exercise, and there would be no balls and that type of stuff for playtime.”

There are some restrictions on student fees in California, which prohibits charging students any fee, charge or deposit for curricular, extracurricular, credit or non-credit activities, meaning a model based on paying to participate is often not an option.

“There are state laws preventing schools from collecting certain fees from students, as education in California must be free to students,” Cartan said.

In order to collect the funding needed by schools, organizations must operate independently of the school or district.

“Parents may wish to organize clubs for the purpose of supporting the educational program and/or extracurricular programs, such as athletic teams, debate teams and musical groups,” Cartan said. “Board policy requires parent/booster clubs to have a written statement of purpose and bylaws so that they may function as organizations independent of the school or district.”

Nieto said a recent lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which charged the Department of Education with unlawfully allowing students to pay fees for involvement in school activities, created an increased need for donations through fundraising.

Due to the dependency on parent teacher associations for fundraising, a resounding appreciation for the parent teacher associations is evident in school communities.

“The community partner program with the local grocery stores has been enormously helpful to us, and the online contribution programs have contributed greatly to our funds,” Devlin said. “Many local businesses, such as the Northridge, help us with fundraisers on a regular basis.”

Zeisler also said the PTA supporting his district has been paramount in fundraising support.

“Without our PTA, we would really, really feel a huge impact, and we’re so appreciative of what they do,” Zeisler said. “Even though we’ve made little cuts here and there, we have a lot of things in place because of the PTA.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4230.

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The Union Updated Feb 1, 2013 03:32PM Published Feb 2, 2013 08:55AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.