Gym's funding worries some

`Question of equity' in private money for public school projects


March 11, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

The basketball-loving folks of Davidsonville wanted a wood floor for the elementary school gymnasium under construction in their community. The better for their aging knees during recreation league games, they said.

The school board, which is footing a $14 million bill for a new campus, planned to use the less costly synthetic rubber "sport court" that is standard in new elementary schools countywide.

The cost difference is $75,000. The Davidsonville Athletic Association and the Davidsonville Elementary School PTA wrote checks to the school board Wednesday - for $65,000 and $10,000, respectively - to cover the gap.

As school board members voted unanimously to take Davidsonville's private money to enhance a public building, some were leery of sending a message that those with the cash could buy better public education for their kids than those who struggle for every penny.

"We're still ... left with the question of equity," said board Vice President Vaughn L. Brown Jr. "We all know there are many communities in Anne Arundel County that can't afford to do that, that would be very hard-pressed to come up with $75,000 to pay for a different feature in their school."

There was a time when PTAs held bake sales and spaghetti nights to earn a couple of hundred dollars to rent popcorn poppers and snow cone machines for field day. Now, PTAs can raise an average of $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

Even a small school in a not particularly affluent area - such as Ferndale Elementary School - raises $15,000 to $20,000 a year to pay for field trips, puppet shows and storytellers it might not otherwise be able to get, said Rita Lowman, president of the Ferndale PTA and a vice president of the state PTA.

"I think it does exacerbate inequities that already exist," said Susie C. Jablinske, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, who has spent much of her career teaching at Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, one of the have-nots.

In the past decade or two, PTAs bought computer labs for their schools before they became standard and started wiring for the Internet.

In Jessup, the PTA paid for walls in the open-classroom elementary school there. At Folger-McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park, the PTA paid for expensive playground equipment.

PTAs pay for books for the media center, extra materials for the classrooms and such things as digital cameras.

Not every community gets the extras. There are pockets of poverty in Anne Arundel County. There are places where parents don't get involved in their children's schools, and there are places where the parents are exuberant when it comes to sales of magazines, candy and gift wrap that raise the big bucks.

"I have schools who $10,000 would be a dream of a lifetime to raise that kind of money in one year, and I have schools that don't think anything of it," said Georgiana Maszczenski, who coordinates parent groups for county schools. "It's literally like making a cake. You've got to have all the ingredients in place."

The national organization that oversees PTAs discourages paying for items that should be provided by the school district - such as computers, books and extra teachers - and encourages parents to lobby for greater funding, Maszczenski said.

Davidsonville residents don't see what they are buying as a frill. The gym was enlarged by the county to make it something of a local community center, they say.

"We are not asking for cappuccino machines in the teachers' lounge. ... This is not a luxury item," PTA President Tricia Johnson told the board.

School board member Carlesa Finney said she is "concerned about equity" but sees that this is a different era in public schools when resources are scarce and looking outside government for a boost might be in order.

Perhaps, she said, the Davidsonville donation should be seen as a model for seeing a goal and reaching it, for going after private dollars for school needs. "Certainly, I applaud the efforts of the community to do the kind of rallying you have," she said.

It was difficult for school board members to say no. The money to upgrade came with no strings attached.

The checks were handed over Wednesday, the athletic association asked for no preferential treatment in scheduling its time in the gym, and the floor becomes the property of the school.

"I don't know how you can stop it," Jablinske said. "You want community involvement and parent involvement. You don't want to discourage it."

Eugene Peterson, first vice president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, said, "I don't think you can restrict locals. ... It's a tough call. I do think it's a highly unusual thing that we probably won't see happening again, but it does raise questions about equity and such.

"You have to pay attention because you don't want some feeling less equal than others."

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