Public school for sale? Parent donations: County rightly made distinction between fund-raising for supplies, programs.

June 22, 1998

AS ENTICING as the offer was from parents who wanted to pay to expand their children's elementary school to include middle-school grades, the Baltimore County Board of Education correctly declined the well-intentioned gift.

While it is common practice for parents to raise money for schools, residents in northwestern Baltimore County's Woodbridge desired an addition much greater than playground swings, books or new computers. They wanted to pay to convert their elementary into a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school.

Parents said that Woodbridge only needed additional XTC classrooms to make the conversion. Officials estimated a higher price because the school would need a larger cafeteria and labs for middle-school science.

The logistical argument against accepting the offer had weight, but the more compelling reason to oppose it was principle. A community's ability to pay should not drive public school policy.

If Baltimore County parents want K-8 schools, the board can decide how to make that available beyond those places able to muster $20,000 or $30,000 in donations.

The proposal was a predictament for the board, because schools solicit and desire parents to be involved and to raise money. Yet sometimes groups cross the line. Such was the case in Anne Arundel County years ago when parents convinced educators to let them finance a French-language program, available nowhere else, at their elementary school.

Acquiescing to such offers violates the precept that public schools should be equitably funded and equipped. That standard is hard enough to achieve. The haves often have more than the have-nots, because organized parents have the wherewithal, the know-how and motivation to raise money to outfit their children's schools.

That energy must not be discouraged. But school boards should not let parents pay to alter not just the tools of education, but the core program itself.

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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