Selling for Schools


Local parents and school kids say there’s no fun in fundraising.

By Joyce Heid

Once the school year has begun, it won’t take long for your child to bring it home. I’m not talking about strep throat or even a huge homework assignment. Something else many parents dread even more: the first school fundraiser of the year. It may present itself innocently enough — a simple white or manila envelop tucked behind a math folder in your child’s backpack — but that envelope represents time many families just don’t have. Time to pitch the merchandise, time to collect the money and time to deliver the goods.
When I was in school, we sold candy bars. The year was 1976, the Bicentennial, and I hoped I would get a special prize for selling 76 candy bars. Another student who sold more than 500 took home the big prize, but I had plenty of chocolate left over to console myself. Today, fundraisers encompass everything from candy bars and wrapping paper to pizza and candles. The fundraising revenue is used to pay for classroom equipment and supplies, field trips and playground equipment, among other items.

Rising Needs, Rising Costs
According to a 2007 survey by the Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), 85 percent of the principals report that they have seen an increased need for school-wide fundraisers within the last decade due to enrollment increases, rising operating costs and inadequate support from district, state and federal sources. Fifty-six percent have concerns about this increase. Sixty-four percent would stop fundraising if they could. Many of those surveyed believe fundraisers have become too much of a distraction to the school day. Resounding in many of the responses was the belief that fundraisers place too much pressure on children to sell products and can be burdensome to teachers, parents and the community.
Michelle Marx of Calvert County is the mother of three boys, now ages 15 to 20. Not only have they faced the usual school fundraising, but they’re also active in extracurricular activities, such as football, wrestling, baseball and soccer, both in school and through community organizations.
Although Marx sympathizes with the need for fundraisers, she believes it’s out of control. “There is definitely more fundraising going on and more pressure for kids to sell than ever before,” she says. “When my kids were little, there was one major fundraiser a year, usually gift wrap or candy of some sort. This fundraiser was usually run by the PTA. In the last five to eight years, the schools in my area have begun to hold their own fundraisers. As a result, I end up selling one thing for PTA and another for the school, and I'm not always sure which is which … the pressure is on to sell.”

Where the Money Goes
The majority of school fundraisers aren’t about raising mad money; they’re to bankroll specific needs for the classroom. Needs that aren’t being met with the fiscal resources available. In 76 percent of schools, the PTAs or PTOs are responsible for the fundraising.
As a mother and former president of the PTA of Sunset Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Beverly Locantore sympathizes with both sides of the issue. And it wasn’t easy, she says, to decide where to spend the money. 
“We always asked the school what was needed the most,” she says. “I think it's sad that you need to have fundraisers to purchase new maps and globes, art tables, ink for the computer lab, the school sign and a security camera with the intercom system (two of them, because one was vandalized). We always did a big ticket item and then added small items. The teachers appreciate the small items a lot — like butterflies for the butterfly lab or reading incentives for the reading club and field day awards.”

Kids’ Feelings at Risk
Incentives, such as class parties or prizes, are often offered to minimize the sting of participating in multiple fundraisers. Sometimes they’re provided by the school or group promoting the fundraiser, other times by the company providing the merchandise being sold. Marx expresses concern over rewards programs that hurt children’s feelings or pit one child against another in an effort to entice increase sales.
“My best friend, who has one child still in elementary school, recently complained because during the schools Field Day,” says Marx. “There was a booth for dunking, and teachers were the dunkees. Well, only kids who sold for the fundraiser were given the opportunity to try to knock the teachers in. How embarrassing for the kids who couldn't or didn't sell. It is outrageous that kids be punished for not selling.”
“For many kids,” she continues, “fundraising is not an option. They are from low-income families in low-income neighborhoods and, as a result, they are in essence punished for not raising money for the school. This is so inappropriate I can't stress it enough. It goes on in many schools. I am personally aware of two sports related fundraisers where if you didn't sell the required amount you had to run suicide drills and/or steps.”

Private Schools Feel the Pinch
Even private schools that charge tuition feel the crunch of higher operating costs. Ruth Colross is the principal of Saint Paul’s Lutheran School in Glen Burnie. Each year, the parent group at the school supports three major fundraisers: two involve selling items and one is a bull roast. Families who want to support the school but prefer not to participate are invited to invest their own money upfront. “Parents can opt out of selling by participating in a buy-out,” she explains. “They contribute about $35 or $40 dollars per child instead of selling the items.”
Robin Meyer’s son Zach is a student at the school and she appreciates the option of the buy out. “Instead of asking my family and co-workers to buy stuff they don’t really want or need, I much prefer to write a check. Then I know all of the money goes directly for the benefit of the children,” she says.
Saint Paul’s is among the many private and public schools that Colross calls “painless fundraising.”
“Painless fundraising is buying a product from a vendor who shares part of the profit with the school. There is quite a variety of opportunities to do this, from Box Tops for Education to buying at Target or Office Depot.”
Unfortunately, fundraising is a necessary part of education. Says NAESP’s executive director, Vincent L. 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.”
Marx and countless other parents agree that the status quo needs to change. “I don't mind fundraisers, she says. “I would just like less of them and not all at one time. As far as school goes I don't mind helping with some things, but I do NOT want to pay for what my taxes are intended to pay for since I already pay the taxes.”

Joyce Heid is a freelance writer who lives in Pasadena.