Bake sales over telemarketing

April 20, 1994

Time was that when the high school football team needed new uniforms, a few weekends of marathon car washes did the trick. Or possibly a bake sale. That was before "high-tech" took over. Now, telemarketers have entered into the lucrative realm of school fund-raising, offering schools big cash quick, with little or no effort.

The telemarketing trend began taking hold in Howard County several years ago, but already officials seem poised to put an end to the practice. At the beginning of the current school year, officials clamped down on the number of schools that could hire telemarketers -- only the system's eight high schools -- and imposed strict rules on fund-raising campaigns.

Four high schools opted in favor of telemarketers, who tried to sell parents and other residents on such items as pizza pies and jams in support of their local school. At Ellicott City's Centennial High, for example, the school football team hired a telemarketing firm that raked in $1,050 during one campaign, netting the team a measly $352 -- but without hosing down a single car.

School officials say they are getting calls from angry residents, upset that their high school has joined the ranks of other groups soliciting donations by phone. The school board is expected to ban telemarketing later this year. The loss will be minimal.

To maintain good relations with the community, school officials need to halt telemarketing, which ranks high on modern society's list of annoying techniques. For a school to adopt this tactic in fund-raising also sends a negative message to students: Why work hard when you can hire someone to do it for you?

The more traditional raising of outside funds might be more of a pain, but it also teaches skills, not the least of which is how to organize and count. Thankfully, selling magazine subscriptions, doughnuts and gift wrap is still in vogue.

Fund-raisers at Howard County schools garnereed $1.36 million last year. An auction of goods and services recently held at Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia, featuring County Executive Charles I. Ecker as auctioneer, earned the school about $6,000 in one night. Two students tied in their effort to become principal for a day, bidding $375 each.

As good fun for a worthy cause, it was better than a disruptive phone call at dinner time any day.

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