PTO and Fundraising

I have been contemplating something since a friend of mine brought it up and today I witnessed it first hand. I decided I need to “talk” about it to help myself work it out in my head.

Our PTO at my son’s elementary school is very involved. I have in the past helped with a committee that brings in lunch for the teachers once a month. I think that’s a nice use of PTO resources and it tells the staff we appreciate them. I love being involved with my kid’s school. I volunteer once a week in his class and I try to volunteer anytime help is needed such as the book fair or turkey trot. Recently a friend of mine was in charge of the “fall festival” and I helped set up a few things the day of the event. I would have liked to have helped more but I had been really ill. We usually go to PTO sponsored events at the school such as the fall festival, welcome back ice cream party, and those sorts of events. They don’t cost a lot and they are a fun way to be involved with the school and I feel they foster a sense of community. I am able to meet some of the parents I don’t normally see, and see how my son interacts with other students.

Then there are the serious fund raisers. Some families really get into these events and try to outsell (produce, whathaveyou) each other. I am torn about these things. First of all, I think that we should be expecting more from our state and federal funding to fund whatever the school needs. We shouldn’t have to donate a dollar every 4th Friday so the kids can wear caps for computers. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a worthy goal, it’s just that I think our funding should come from the community (yes, taxes. why is it ok to spend 22% of the budget on war and only 3% on education?) In my sister-in-law’s old school district it sounded like the local companies were very involved in donating and I think that might be a good avenue to look into. And it’s not that I am against helping out at school. I just think that if we keep funding things through the PTO instead of demanding it from the avenues the funding is SUPPOSED to come from, we will never get the community to give what they should. I think that an educated community benefits us all and I don’t think that we should skimp on it. I also think that having children sell things people don’t need is teaching bad life skills. It’s consumerism at it’s worst – you don’t need a single thing in that catalogue, but you buy it because it’s your friend’s/neighbor’s/coworker’s kid. You don’t need those thin mints, but you buy them…. well you just buy THEM because they are delicious. But you get my point.

So, what happened today that made me stop and think?

I volunteered at my child’s school today. I do this every Monday. But this Monday he had asked me to also go to lunch with him. Recess is between my volunteer time and before lunch, so I stayed for recess as well. Today was the day that the children who sold a certain number of “butterbraids” were taken on a limo ride for lunch with the principal. Which, is actually kind of an awesome reward for little kids. We didn’t do the butterbraids fundraiser this year. We have done it before and these things are delicious. I know I could have sold plenty of them, people love them, but we had just moved and we had been sick for weeks and I just decided not to do it. Well, when we got outside the limo was waiting for the few kids who sold 12 butterbraids or more. My son didn’t really get upset he wasn’t going, but some of the kids did. They said it wasn’t fair that only some kids get to go on a ride (and I didn’t argue with that). They said they sold butterbraids too, they should get to go. One kid even said she sold 12 and she should get to go. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but she was upset. You know who I noticed wasn’t complaining about it, but was still looking longingly at the Limo? 2 kids who’s parents struggle. 2 kids who I know don’t get to do most of the extra “things.” 1 one of them only has one parent who is young and works very long hours.

This made me stop and think.

A friend of mine mentioned recently that these sorts of fundraisers are unfair to kids who don’t have a lot of financial resources. I tend to agree. Who do we usually sell to when participating in these sorts of things? We sell to family, friends, co workers, neighbors. Generally, if our family doesn’t have a lot of financial resources, our extended family doesn’t either. Generally our neighbors are part of the same socioeconomic group we are part of. Generally our co-workers make around the same salary we do. So, in sending home fundraisers that come with a “reward” at the end IF you sell enough of them, you single those kids out. Those kids often don’t have the ability to sell enough to get the reward, or even to sell any. They go to school and see their friends being rewarded for selling crap no one needs and they feel badly because they couldn’t sell any crap.

Then there are the fundraisers that involve cutting labels or boxtops from the package of the products we normally buy. I understand – it’s all marketing. If you buy x brand you get more boxtops than if you buy from the store brand. That’s how it got started. Good marketing. But here’s the thing. How often do you think those kids who live in lower financial situations get the name brand cereal? So, this month we had a “boxtops for education” drive. The classes who brought in the most boxtops get a special reward. I believe it was a pajama and movie day. So, the whole class has pressure to bring in boxtops and I can imagine at the upper grades the kids realize what is going on and start to “encourage” each other to bring in more. And then, who is left out, again? The kids who’s parents can’t (or won’t) buy the most expensive raisin bran.

Even the fall festival leaves kids out – some kids can’t afford $8 to go spend 2 hours at the school having fun. For me $8 is a great deal for some Saturday night entertainment for me and the boy. But for some people that’s out of the realm of their budget.

I know most of the fundraisers (which feels like they happen every month) involve a suggested goal and a reward. Even nights where you can go to a certain restaurant for dinner and get money for the school involves the parents shelling out money.

And there is one other way that kids who don’t have “as much” get left out at our school. This one isn’t just related to finances though. This one is related to kids who have 2 parents that work. I am lucky. I can almost always go to my son’s class when there is a valentines party or the class music program or the kids are reading a special story they have written. We have enough two income homes (whether out of necessity or out of the desire to work outside of the home) that I see kids’ faces fall every single time. And I feel sorry for both the kids and the parent. Not everyone can make it to everything and I think it’s really hard to explain that to a 5 or 6 year old.

I am not sure what my proposed solution is here. Maybe some of my friends will comment about it and get my wheels moving on it. I will continue to support what fundraisers I can/feel ok about supporting at this point. I don’t have anything against the PTO or it’s activities. I know those parents work hard and they are doing what they feel is important for the school. Next year a good friend of mine my be the president of the PTO. I will help her out with what she needs. I volunteered for my son’s preschool PTO and thoroughly enjoyed the people I got to spend time with and working with the school. I just don’t think that it’s fair to segregate kids who already feel like they are on the outskirts of the school’s society.

Our school is pretty good about involving everyone. When we go on field trips they give parents the option of helping to pay for “students in need” to go on the field trip too. I appreciate those sorts of things the school does. I just wish there were a way to do get what the school needs, support the parents who want to be involved, and to not make children who are less advantaged feel worse about their situation. Maybe there is. Maybe it starts here and now with parents who feel the same way I do….