Public schools, private cash

With budgets cut, schools turn to parents and businesses to fund basic operations.

Will schools with richer families get richer?

With state aid to Minneapolis schools down 10 percent this year, administrators are turning more to private sources — parents and corporations willing to donate money to plug the gap.

In some cases, private cash for Southwest elementary/middle schools has become considerable;

last school year, Burroughs Community School, 1601 W. 50th St., netted $68,140.

Private fundraising no longer pays just for special trips or expensive sports activities;

increasingly, it goes towards basic operating costs — equipment repairs, supplies such as markers and paper, even the salaries of band instructors.

Some Southwest schools can tap more funds than others. In 2001-02, Jefferson Community School raised $27 per student — compared to $202 per student at Kenwood Elementary.

Budget cuts

During the week of April 14, Minneapolis school principals received their 2003-04 budgets — and the results of the school district’s budget crisis. There were steep cuts; Bryn Mawr Elementary, 252 Upton Ave. S., for example, saw its budget cut $250,000.

Within days, principals and site councils (made up of parents, teachers and staff) convened emergency budget meetings. Some site councils asked parents for money and turned to their PTAs.

Emily Winter, president of the Armatage Parent Teacher Association (PTA), said the 1201 W. 56th St., school’s site council asked for a $20,000 grant to make up for district cuts. Winter expects the PTA to grant the request, drawing down a $30,000 rainy-day savings account.

"Everyone is upset that it’s come to this. PTA money is supposed to be for special enrichment," Winter said.

While supporting basic school services is new at Armatage, it’s been a reality at Barton, Kenny and Burroughs the last several years.

Burroughs Principal Tim Cadotte, who helped create the Burroughs Foundation two years ago, said, "It’s become apparent that we’ll have to look to other funding sources to provide what we believe is a basic educational program."

While private money pays for more staff positions, it still pales compared to taxpayer support. Kenwood’s $65,749 raised in 2001-02 was about 3 percent of its $2.1 million budget Most Southwest schools raise around 1 percent of their funds privately.

Corporate giving

PTAs are not the only source of non-taxpayer funds. Businesses increasingly donating a share of sales to a customer’s chosen school.

Southwest schools each receive between $500 and $2,500 per year through Target Corp.’s "Take Charge of Education" program. Since 1997, the Minneapolis-based retailer has donated 1 percent of each consumer’s purchases with its store charge card, and also gives a half-percent of purchases made with its affiliated Visa card.

Target isn’t alone. St. Paul-based Kowalski’s Markets opened new stores in East Isles and Tangletown last year, instituting a "Groceries for Good Causes" program. Consumers "vote" by stuffing receipts in a slot marked for their favorite cause or school. The receipts are tabulated several times a year, and Kowalski’s donates a lump sum according to each cause’s popularity. "Groceries for Good Causes" mimics Amsted’s New Market programs in Linden Hills and St. Louis Park.

Kowalski’s new Southwest groceries haven’t written out many checks yet, store officials say. But Kowalski’s has written $125-$250 checks to othercity schools.

Longer-standing programs such as General Mills’ Box Tops for Education, and Kemp’s Give ’em Five milk caps, and Campbell’s Soup Labels earn most Southwest schools $200-$350 per year.

Getting those funds requires parent labor.

Jeffersonfamily liaison Heather Vick said her school’s take depends on volunteers who will count, bind and mail the labels.

"Several years ago, we had a parent take real ownership of the program. She held parties where she collected labels, and really recruited them," said Vick.

The big fundraiser: PTAs

Because of marketing, you might think corporations are major education cash cows. However, far more is raised by parents and teachers through a PTA or PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization ) when individual students sell friends and family wrapping paper, or get them to sponsor read-a-thons.

Corporate cash usually goes directly into a school’s checkbook; PTA money isn’t, since the organization is usually an independent nonprofit.

Linda Spee, the president of Minnesota’s state Parent Teacher Association, said PTAs are nonprofits because they do more than raise funds.

"PTAs are organized to build the school, but also the community around the school," Spee said. "They are separate, so that parents don’t get into the business of running the school itself; their goals are larger."

Almost all PTAs have events that are part-fundraiser and part-community building. Barton Open School’s plant sale is a 15-year-plus tradition that recruits active parents, community members and former students. Plants brought in $35,000 for the 4237 Colfax Ave. S., school in 2001.

According to Barton Parent Council Treasurer Tom Jensen, "Our neighbors will ask us when we’ll have order forms for the plant sale. It’s pretty easy for a kid to make $300 to $400 just by going around the block."

The sale started out with two or three truckloads of plants; now, said Jensen it takes 14 24-foot-long U-Haul trucks arriving at 6 a.m. to fill customer orders. Some 25 parents and 50 kids are there to greet and unload the trucks.

Lake Harriet’s annual carnival and silent auction is another major moneymaker — $23,400 last year for the 4912 Vincent Ave. S. school.

Sally Centner, fundraising coordinator for the Lake Harriet PTA, has a background in corporate finance — and notes that carnivals and silent auctions aren’t the most efficient revenue sources.

"The carnival is a community builder, the children get so excited for it, and the whole community comes out, that’s why we do it. But it’s a ton of work," said Centner.

Lake Harriet’s one-night extravaganza requires hundreds of parent hours. Lake Harriet’s PTA has 21 members, including 16 parents; parents of graduates, and community members also volunteer their time.

Centner contrasts the carnival to Lake Harriet’s gift-wrap sale. It earned the school $25,000 last year — a bit more than the carnival — but fundraising company Sally Foster Inc. handles almost all of the organizing. (The school and company split sales 50-50.)

The District, PTAs and most schools say they discourage and sometimes prohibit students from going door-to-door to strangers’ homes. But such guidelines are difficult to enforce.

Kim Lund, Windom’s PTO president, is concerned that fundraisers take too many parent hours.

"We’ve got to stop thinking only in terms of our scarcity. I think at some schools, there is a desire to fundraise for the sake of fundraising," said Lund.

At Windom — where more than half of its students are learning English as a Second language– Lund says the PTO emphasizes putting as much direct time with children as possible. And they limit fundraising to specific goals or events.

Seeking to separate the financial work from PTA volunteers, Ramsey, Burroughs and Kenny, created foundations solely to generate long-term dollars and financial planning.

Roughly six years ago, Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, a K-8 at 1 W. 49th St., started its own foundation to develop an endowment for the school. Teachers, students and families can apply for grants twice a year for a specific educational project from money generated by Ramsey’s fundraisers.

Buying the basics

PTAs traditional pay for "extras" such as overnight trips, special programs scholarships and continuing education for teachers.

But with budget cuts looming, money is suddenly going for basics. This year, Ramsey’s foundation planned to pay for the school’s Fine Arts coordinator because of planned District cuts. However, the position was funded through traditional means.

Southwest schools with wealthier families are used to paying for school staff and even building repairs.

In 2001-02, Barton’s Parent Council — a combination PTA and Site Council organization paid $27,000 for a half time band and strings specialist, plus a reading specialist to individually coach students. They were the first local parent organization to debate whether they should fund the school’s basic needs, said Barton parent Tom Jensen.

"It’s a ton of money, but we felt it was the best place for it. We really could see that if they weren’t reading at 3rd grade, it affected all of their classes."

Burroughs spent $54,000 from its 2001-2002 Read-A-Thon fund drive, Book Fair and private foundation to pay for band and strings positions after District funding cuts.

Teachers also provide non-taxpayer cash. Education Minnesota, the state teacher’s union, conducted a study last year reporting that teachers spent on average $2,000 per year in non-reimbursed classroom supplies.

Most Southwest PTAs set aside lump sums ranging from $200 to $400 per teacher for supplies. Kenny gives teachers $10 per student a year for discretionary supplies such as pencils with glittery tops.

"We know [teachers] are spending more of their own money; this is an attempt to pay them back," Kenny PTA Treasurer Deanna Sokolowski said.

This year, Kenny, 5720 Kenny Ave. S., hit a low mark in District funding, and for the first time its PTA contributed $5,500 for school supplies so District dollars could pay salaries. PTA dollars also purchased a laminating machine, platform risers, and a scale for the nurse’s office, among other things.

Equity

As private contributions increasingly pay for basics, schools with more kids in poverty cast a covetous eye at their wealthier neighbors’ fundraising prowess.

At Jefferson, 85 percent of the kids are in poverty. The school, located in the heart of Uptown on 26th Street and Hennepin Avenue, is currently selling raffle tickets for a chance at over 70 Uptown prizes donated by Uptown businesses. Family liaison Heather Vick said the school is lucky to be close to many businesses.

"We don’t bring in big bucks going door to door. That just doesn’t happen with low-income kids. They have less money in the family and in their neighborhood. We can’t make a zillion dollars like Barton or Kenwood’s plant sales," said Vick.

Vick also mentioned that when they discourage students from soliciting strangers, parents end up bearing the costs of these fundraisers.

"Our parents don’t like being hit up over and over again," said Vick.

To prevent hitting a saturation point, Jefferson has set up a fundraising committee that oversees and approves each school wide and grade level fundraisers, making sure they don’t overlap. Without a strong PTA, Jefferson doesn’t have the volunteer base.

In 2001-2002, Jefferson held four fundraisers. It raised $5,000 with a raffle, $1,500 at a Carnival, $6,500 with the Innisbrook, Inc. gift sale and $2,500 from the Scholastic book sale.

Vick said Jefferson could do better if it invested more time into the fundraisers. Last year, she said she handed out the order forms and catalogs to students, but didn’t have time to sell the fundraiser to students.

"Several years ago we made $10,000 with the raffle. I’ll be really happy if we make $7,000 this year," Vick said.

Private fundraising partly offsets a funding policy ingrained at the federal, state and local level: schools with more than 50 percent kids in poverty get more public money. For example, in 2001-2002 Barton received $4,869 in overall funding per student while Jefferson received $7,008 per pupil.

Private cash puts public school officials in a conundrum. They can’t control and don’t even track PTA funds, but know they are used to supplement the income of each school. But if the District somehow counted private donations — in effect, penalizing schools that raise a lot of private money by cutting their public per-pupil aid –more programs at schools would end and possibly drive more middle class families out of the District.

Minneapolis Public Schools Budget Director Marj Rolland said the District does not consider private fundraising when allocating per-pupil funds.

"We’ve never assumed that’s how they should balance out their program," Rolland said, adding that despite budget cuts, "Burroughs and other low-poverty schools have enough to run a minimum program."

One reason the District can’t factor in private funds is that it has no single source tracking individual school fundraising. School checkbooks only include private dollars contributed for salaries. Otherwise, the only record is in PTA/PTO/foundation checkbooks and state nonprofit filings.

Minnesota PTA President Linda Spee says that’s how PTA money should be kept. The District shouldn’t ever see parent organization money as easily accessible. But she’s concerned about the trend towards PTA money funding a school’s core services.

Said Spee, "That’s the District’s job, and if they’re not paying for curriculum or teacher salaries, there needs to be a larger discussion at the source of the funding."