Study sparks concern over school fund raising Gap is wide between low-income, rich areas

April 14, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County elementary and middle schools with more students from low-income families tend to raise less money than Howard schools in more affluent areas of the county, a new school system study has found.

The analysis of school fund raising for the 1995-1996 school year -- presented to the school board last week -- confirms what seems obvious to many. Yet, it raises fresh concerns about the ability of some schools to generate extra money to supplement public funds for such basics as books and paper.

"With the school budget getting cut year after year, the fund raising is more of an issue now," said Ellen Rennels, PTA president of Centennial High School and a regional trainer for the Maryland State PTA. "The inequities between wealthy and poor schools aren't something a lot of people want to discuss, but it's becoming significant with those extra funds being used to fill in gaps."

Although fund raising in Howard schools typically involves sales of gift wrap, greeting cards and pizza, the disparities are more than just small change.

Altogether, the 56 Howard schools open in the 1995-1996 school year reported raising more than $2.1 million before expenses, netting about $985,000 -- or more than $26 for each of the system's 37,300 students. That's only slightly more than the $2 million raised before expenses by Howard schools in the 1994-1995 school year.

Some Howard elementary schools reported raising $20,000 more than others in 1995-1996 -- netting five times more money per student.

For example, Worthington Elementary in Ellicott City netted $39,554, or $63 per student, while Columbia's Stevens Forest Elementary netted $3,845, or $12 per student.

The disparities among some Howard middle schools are just as great. Dunloggin Middle School's fund raising for 1995-1996 netted $18,501, or almost $34 per student, while Hammond Middle School's fund-raising net was $3,956, or $5.17 per student.

The amount of fund raising in Howard schools has been a concern of county educators and parents for the past few years -- particularly as parents, administrators, teachers and students have increased their efforts to make up for budgets that don't cover all of the schools' needs.

Money collected through fund raising is supposed to go only to such extra activities as cultural events and field trips, but it's widely acknowledged that some money pays for instructional materials that are supposed to be provided by county tax dollars.

The fund raising reported by schools includes the traditional PTA bake sales and spring fairs as well as car washes by high school bands and soda sales in teacher lunch rooms.

In the past few years, some school staffs have held fund-raisers for such things as hiring part-time aides to supervise lunch and recess in county elementaries.

And that's just the fund raising that schools reported.

School officials believe that much of the money raised by schools goes unreported, largely due to oversight. Some schools forget to keep track of all their fund-raising activities.

"We think there may be about $1 million, or $1.5 million, unaccounted for," said Associate Superintendent James R. McGowan.

With all of the money being raised, there's a "concern for equity," McGowan said.

The school system analysis found a correlation between the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunches -- the federal measure of low-income families -- and the amount of money raised by elementary and middle schools. No correlation was found in county high schools.

"We're not certain this would fully represent an equity study," McGowan said. "But it does give us some indication of how the ability to raise money might impact on various school levels."

But the finding of inequities in fund raising among schools due to the affluence of their communities wasn't particularly troubling to some county PTA leaders.

"I don't think it's that big a deal," said Susan Poole, president of the county PTA Council. "There's nothing PTA Council can do to fix that inequity."

Howard school board members and school officials said they want to study the fund raising for at least another school year or two before taking any action.

"It's my personal belief that PTAs and other funding groups in schools should not be increasing the availability of textbooks and materials of instruction and staff development," said board member Karen Campbell. "It bothers me."

In their report on fund raising, school officials recommended that the board appoint a committee to look at whether fund raising promotes the "general welfare, education, morale and civic-mindedness of students" or "inequities, unwanted competitiveness, undue pressures on nonparticipating students and interruptions of the instructional program."

But county educators stressed that they have no plans to take money from schools that are more successful at fund raising.

"We're not doing this to take money away from people," -McGowan said. "We want to know what money is flowing and where it is flowing."

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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