Should a revised District 97 policy governing gifts and donations to schools impact how much money a particular PTO can raise for their school compared with the PTO at another school? That’s the question both administration and the board are mulling.
The district currently has a policy concerning gift donations, but the administration wanted the revision to spell out procedures on how gifts are approved, by whom, and for what amount. Policy 7230 was presented to the board at last Tuesday’s board meeting, but not approved.
The policy sparked a larger discussion, however, about equity at the schools. Some PTOs have raised larger amounts of money for their schools than others, administrators and board members said. Any individual or group can donate gifts to the district or particular schools other than the PTO, but the administration acknowledged a significant amount comes from the parent groups.
Board member Carolyn Newberry Schwartz noted that most of the playgrounds at the elementary schools were paid for by PTOs, but overall some schools have had a harder time raising funds than others. The PTO Council on Monday released a statement about the policy and the equity issue stating, “It goes without saying that each PTO wants and needs to use its resources effectively in alignment with district priorities and budget parameters. It also goes without saying that each school has its own unique culture, each PTO reflects a unique set of priorities, and that the district doesn’t wish to stifle parent ingenuity and generosity.”
But administrators said PTOs have raised funds that the district have not approved. Supt. Collins explained the policy’s goal was not to stifle fundraising by the PTOs, but to establish guidelines concerning PTO-funded projects undertaken at each school.
There are some things the PTOs are prohibited from funding, Collins added, such as classroom teachers or certain instructional materials because those are the responsibility of the district.
Collins said the revised policy has not been approved by the board and that it would require further tweaking before submitted to the board for approval.
The policy would set a $5,000 threshold above which a gift would require district approval, based on certain criteria. Therese O’Neill, Dist. 97 assistant superintendent from finance and operations, explained that any amount $5,000 or above would begin a review process. Certain building or classroom equipment donated or purchased may need long-term maintenance, for instance, which might incur a cost to district, plus installation costs, if needed
“Those are the questions that we need to go through,” she said.
Board members asked that the policy include sample lists of items and projects that are appropriate donations and those that are not.
“If playground equipment is always a good one, we need to say that’s a good one. If teachers and staff are always a bad one, then we need to say that. I think that’s the smart way to do it,” said board member Peter Barber, who also expressed concern about equity.
“I think we also have to do our part to encourage [fundraising and donations] yet also make sure this is being done the right way. There are parts of our community that could afford to do a lot of fundraisers and there are other parts that will be more challenged to do that.”