Raffle prize raises eyebrows

Convertible: River Hill High's prize of a new Camaro raises concern of perceived disparities among schools.

March 21, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

One parent plunked down $500 to buy his kid a River Hill High parking pass. Another bid $320 for VIP seating at graduation.

But the big prize was a $27,000 Chevrolet Camaro convertible - given away by a school booster club that felt flush enough to forfeit about $10,000 in the process.

At a dinner-dance-auction Friday, the River Hill High booster club decided to raffle off the 2001 Camaro although it barely took in enough money to cover the cost of the car, provided at a discount by a local dealer.

A loophole in the raffle rules would have allowed the boosters to wiggle out of awarding the auto and instead split the money raised - about $25,000 - with the winner.

But they decided to forgo the money and award the car - to the delight of the high school senior with the winning raffle ticket, and to the amazement of other area boosters, who can only dream about being in a position to pass up that kind of cash.

"I think any booster club in the county would like to be in that position," said Jerry Yetter, president of the Wilde Lake High School booster club.

The River Hill boosters figure their decision will pay off in the long run by generating more excitement and interest in the raffle, which they hope to make an annual event, said Stephanie Glover, the booster who organized the contest to raise money for a graduation party for seniors.

High-dollar fund raising by PTAs and booster clubs has raised eyebrows in Howard County and elsewhere because it is easier to raise money in more affluent areas. Well-meaning, well-off parents might add to perceived disparities among schools.

Debbie Blomme, PTA president at Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton, said she "took a lot of flak" in the fall of 1999 when her group's magazine subscription drive offered an extra inducement: a chance to win a $27,000 Dodge Caravan.

She said the effort was stung by a backlash after a newspaper quoted her saying she hoped to raise $100,000. The group ended up raising $14,000, and no one won the van."`You spoiled brat,'" Blomme said people told her. "`You already have a new school.' People told me when they took their kids to sell magazines, they said, `No, no, no. I'd rather buy for the poor school.'"

These days, Blomme is sticking to ordinary magazine subscription drives.

"I'm very low key now," she said. "I play it low."

Wanda Hurt, vice president for legislation with the Maryland PTA and former president of the Howard County PTA Council, said she would prefer that PTAs advocate for more public school funding instead fund raising themselves.

"We would like PTAs to get out of the fund-raising business altogether," she said. "Every time we sell a raffle ticket to buy a computer, we give the state another excuse not to fund another computer."

Hurt marveled at the fund-raising powers of a place like River Hill.

The drawing for the car was held at a dinner-dance-auction that took in about $12,000 for donated items and services, including the parking pass and VIP graduation seats. That money will be used for school athletics, academics and scholarships.

"I can't imagine our school ever raffling off a Camaro," said Hurt, whose son attends Oakland Mills High School. She helped plan graduation parties for that school in a renovated barn in the village center.

The River Hill party will be a cruise on the Potomac. The boosters' profit was about $2,700, which they will put toward the party.

If they'd opted against the car, they would have made about $12,500 - enough to cover the cost of the cruise.

Now, students who want to attend will have to pay about $35 to $40 apiece, which boosters consider a disappointment but not a big problem in Columbia's most affluent village.

"It's about more than raising money," said Principal Scott Pfeifer. "It's the long term. It's the tradition, and traditions are something we need to work on here at River Hill. We're only five years old."

As the keys to the navy blue Camaro were presented to 18-year-old Steve Clayton outside the school yesterday afternoon, boosters President Carey Wright told a group of students, "Remember, next year this could be you."

Clayton, who is thinking about studying business management in college next year, has taken a relatively hard-nosed view of his windfall despite all the excitement.

"The first two thoughts in my head were insurance and taxes," he said when asked his reaction to the news that he'd won the car, which was sold to the boosters club by Win Kelly Chevrolet in Clarksville.

Helping to defray those costs is a $1,000 bonus the boosters awarded to the person who sold Clayton the winning ticket - himself. It was one of 10 $10 tickets he'd purchased. His father and step-mother bought another 10.

Clayton plans to enjoy the car until fall, then sell it and go back to the 1995 Nissan Sentra he has been driving.

"I'm going to keep it around for a few months, because it's a convertible in the summer," he said. "It'll be fun while I have it."

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