A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Run for the hills! It's PTO fundraiser time!

Well, the school year is barely born, and yet, here comes a darling middle-schooler with loads of fundraising materials for the PTO.

I'll be honest: I asked the kid if she would just take a sawbuck and not sell me anything. When that didn't work, I asked the kid what was something in the catalogue that she would like, and I bought it for her. I mean it's not the poor little tyke's fault that the adults associated with her school would rather see their kids taking time away from more important activities to shill out on the streets. As a taxpayer in this district, I am willing to pay for things outright rather than through the sleight-of-hand of school fundraisers which I believe are not beneficial to children. Besides, I would have just not answered the door, but there is a CRAZY neighbor down the street who curses and threatens people, and I felt I had to warn her not to knock on that person's door.

I am deeply troubled by PTA/PTO fundraisers for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, there is the safety issue of sending a kid out to flog their wares to a variety of strangers. I mean, really. Even if the parents are with their kids, this is just not safe behavior in this day and age. My kids are urged to call their aunts and uncles and grandparents to sell, and most of my relatives do not have money to waste on the stuff that is sold in these campaigns. Which leads me to objection number 2....

Second is the awful, overpriced crap they sell. Be it frozen pizzas, cookie dough, candy, wrapping paper, magazine subscriptions, silver-plated jewelry, educational books, or whatever, this stuff is repugnant from an aesthetic as well as a pecuniary standpoint. Fourteen bucks for eleven ounces of ersatz Reese's peanut butter cups? You have to be kidding. Some of this stuff is so kitschy even my mother, a dewy-eyed collector of big-eyed kittens and little girls in prairie dresses with face-obscuring bonnets if ever there was one, would wrinkle her nose in disgust. I like my friends, and I am not willing to try to guilt them into buying this stuff for my kid, either. I'm not so sure I would sell this stuff to my worst enemies.

Third is the ridiculous goals set and prizes promised. Once again, the prizes are predominantly a collection of crap so cheap they would have been in the rejection pile of the rankest Chinese gewgaw factory, and a kid has to sell a couple of hundred dollars' worth of Pile of Crap #1 to receive a trinket from Pile of Crap #2.

Fourth is the reason why these kids are sent out to sell this schtuff in the first place. It is because the PTA/PTO doesn't charge adequate dues for membership in the first place. Two dollars for an individual membership or five dollars for a family is less than what my parents paid in the early seventies when I first entered school. Now I understand their rationale here. I just vehemently disagree with it.

Fifth is the percentage of these fundraisers that actually stays with the school. The majority of the funds from this fundraiser of course went to the company that shills this crap in the first place. They usually have some red-white-and-blue name like "All-American Fundraising" or "Great American School Promotions" but the last I checked, child labor is not really considered all that desirable, much less patriotic.

The rationale for low PTA/PTO dues (which necessitates these fundraisers to begin with) is that some parents can't afford more. That may be true at many urban schools, and I have all the sympathy in the world for that situation. In that case, fine, charge two bucks, and understand that the ADULTS need to realize that they are going to get what they pay for. But the school districts around me are middle- to upper-middle class. If those kinds of parents can't afford 10 bucks for a PTA/PTO membership, it is primarily due to prioritization of resources within the households in a majority of cases. If a parent can't afford it, really and truly, then he or she is not going to buy a membership whether it is two bucks or ten. Why not GIVE memberships to those truly below the poverty level and then charge other parents 10 bucks? You'd still make money. My guess is that this ridiculously low figure is set where it is simply to inflate the membership numbers to make it seem like the PTA/PTO is more influential than it really is. I'm not happy to think that, but rather resigned to the reality of a sizeable chunk of parents who just aren't that invested in their children's educations. They'll pay a thousand bucks a year for a cell phone but claim to not be able to invest ten bucks in their PTA/PTO. They'll pay fourteen bucks for eleven ounces of peanut butter cups rather than simply invest in their PTA/PTO in some cases, too, which just shows how illogical this all is. It's all about priorities.

And it is not a reflection of this current recession. This fundraising gambit has been in place where I reside for the last thirty years at least, in my experience.

In the case of my own children's introduction to this middle-school misadventure in merchandizing, I simply called up the PTA president. I asked her what percentage the PTA got to keep from each dollar raised (which by the way, is also ridiculous. These companies are making money off the backs of our children, and I don't like it one bit. So I just offered to write a check straight to the PTA, as long as it was understood that my kids wouldn't be selling so much as a stick of gum. Then I bought them their own little Spongebob radio as a surprise the next time I caught them doing something nice for someone, and we were done.

In short, joining the PTA/PTO should mean something. It shouldn't mean that our kids are now the equivalent of Fuller Brush Men.

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At 8/28/11, 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our school has gone to 1 major fundraiser of the year (not including bake sales, roller skate parties, and book fairs). Each class has a themed basket. They will have all fall to collect items for the theme and then they sell raffle tickets leading up to Christmas. The baskets are amazing. I don't know that we even do prizes any more, although one year it was an iPod Nano. Kids can sell or not and we still make tons of money. Plus, no overhead.

At 8/29/11, 5:28 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I like that much, much better!

At 8/29/11, 8:04 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I've given kids money for things I didn't really want to buy in these fundraisers. It worked out fairly well for me as I never received the candy, or whatever it was. I hope they at least got the money. I like your idea of just making a donation and saving the time of going through the crap catalogue.

Thanks for your kind words at my blog. We're fixing up the place little by little.

At 8/30/11, 7:43 AM, Anonymous A mom said...

Our PTO is a "no sell" group. We have a walkathon each fall; kids get pledges to support their walk. We keep 100% of the money, and kids don't have to sell anything. I encourage all parents to talk to their PTOs about becoming "no sell" schools.

I would caution that dues will not raise the money a fundraiser would, and dues would not nearly cover what our PTO pays for on an annual basis: field trips for every class, technology upgrades for the school, playground equipment (balls, hula hoops, etc.), classroom mini grants, scholarships for our graduates, etc. etc. Our fundraiser nets us about $10,000, all of which we spend on the above items.

Sadly, the "sell crap to get crap" fundraiser at our school is NOT PTO sponsored; our principal has the kids sell magazines. He uses the money for professional development and classroom technology upgrades. I understand why he does it, but it is not fun.

At 8/30/11, 5:23 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

A Mom,
I like the walkathon-- kids would get exercise in a safe environment. However, I still believe that the things you are buying should be paid for by the taxpayers in your district, especially the technology.

At 8/30/11, 9:28 PM, Anonymous A Mom said...

Oh, I agree..which is why I lead the levy campaign in our district three years ago. Our taxpayers said "no." They like saying "no" to taxes, even when they are for schools.

Like it or not, and I DON'T like it, we are being forced to do more with less. People say that they believe parents should pay for what kids need in schools, not the community as a whole.

I find that argument ridiculous on its face, but then I'm an old-fashioned sort who believes that communities need to support public education for the betterment of the entire community. Not fun, but sadly, our reality.

At 8/31/11, 5:37 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I believe you completely, and it will take, ironically, a lot of education to overcome those kinds of thinking. Absolutely, that argument is ridiculous because our entire SOCIETY is dependent upon an educated citizenry and workforce. Then we need to hammer the fact that one's home values are closely tied to the excellence of the school district in which that house is located. These kinds of people are cutting their own throats with their short-sightedness and lack of understanding of what "community" should mean. Crazy!

At 9/2/11, 10:58 AM, Blogger MommyProf said...

Our PTA in Central State tried an alternative once where we sold raffle tickets and the winner got a cruise. The pushback was tremendous and the sales were lousy - people said they wanted to actually get (a ridiculously shelf stable or hugely overpriced piece of crap) something for their money. I think they are crazy.

Here in New State, the combined PTAs of the district together staff a very popular thrift store and divide the profits. I think I like that - I know I HATE fundraisers, even though I do recognize the needs for funding.

At 9/14/11, 3:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my oldest started kindergarten, I wanted to be a PTO parent, but our school system held the meetings at 10 am on Tuesdays. As a working parent, that time was completely out of the question. I tried to volunteer my time and expertise (I'm an IT person), but it was made very clear that because I work, I was not the "right" type of mommy. When the first fundraiser came home, I called the school and volunteered to write a check for $50 and skip selling the useless crap. The school was appalled by the very idea. We didn't do the fundraiser. The school lost out.

At 9/24/11, 3:27 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

That's just bullcrap. Seriously.

At 10/16/11, 8:47 PM, Blogger JGrant said...

You may be interested in checking out "Chain Gang Elementary," a tale of war between a PTO president and principal, with casualties. Check out the excerpt on testing madness: Standard Hightower Intellachievement Test. http://chaingangelementary.com/?p=1320.
www.chaingangelementary.com. Free eBook version now available for bloggers.

At 4/21/14, 1:12 PM, Blogger Liton Kumar Podder said...

This was an excellent post and was very insightful.

start a fundraiser on www.rallyhero.com
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