How Much School Fundraising Can a Person Take?

Brookline Tab, September 2000

Wrapping paper drives…magazine drives…raffles…

It’s getting so that I am afraid to open up my children’s backpacks for fear that I’m going to have to buy something to support — no, that’s *enrich* — their school experience. Or worse: I’m going to have to ask my mother to buy more stuff! And she’s got five grandchildren, all of whom are in schools, all of which do fundraisers.

As the school year gathers momentum, it is the norm to see tables set up in the school entrances, with people trying to sell things. It seems like I get more invitations to contribute money to my children’s schools than I get telemarketing calls these days — but that could be because I’ve moved and they have yet to find me. Or maybe it’s because I finally started saying, “no” to some of them.

I don’t want to have to say “no” to my children’s fundraisers (and I have three children at three different schools, so there’s a lot of fundraising going on at my house) because I believe in their schools and want them to be wonderful places. I just find myself wondering why it has to be this way. I find I have to ask the question: wouldn’t it be more efficient simply to raise my taxes and earmark some of that income towards the schools? And while we’re at it, try to make a difference in the lives of homeless and hungry people? Not to mention paying our debts (the Big Dig)? Whatever happened to the public sector?

I’d like to see the renewal of public responsibility towards improving the quality of life. I don’t feel so good about placing the burden of enriched school life on those who have school-age children (or are related to those with school-age children). If we start adopting the attitude that only those who use it should pay for it, then where would we be? Would we have to start contributing to the police force only in the wake of a crime? Or would we make senior citizens pay for use of senior centers? Of course not. We should not hesitate to support community services. It makes no difference if we are using these services now; being in a commonwealth means thinking beyond oneself to the greater good.

But regardless of a society’s best intentions, there will always be items that taxes and school budgets cannot realistically cover, and so there will always be fundraisers and private foundations. It’s just that it seems to be a little more every year and I do not know how to satisfy each demand without going broke. Isn’t there some way that the schools can consolidate their fundraisers and do just a few a year so that we parents can plan our contributions and feel good about what we’ve given, rather than inundated — and inadequate?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe the other parents out there are used to writing the hundreds of tiny checks to their kid’s school. Maybe they’re even happy to do it, because they imagine the happy eighth graders going on their trip to Spain. Maybe they feel like these fundraisers help stir up school spirit among the families. But I see the forms to fill out, the phone calls to relatives, the collecting of checks, as a big inconvenience. And I have to wonder what the lower income families must be feeling. Do they simply decide they can’t give, and don’t? How does that help drum up school spirit?

Just wondering. But until things change, I’ll continue to pitch in, because right now, that’s the way it works these days. That’s the way people improve the schools, and that’s my goal, too, after all. I just know there’s a better way, and it’s called “public funds.” It’s called services. Okay, enough said, sign me up for another year of Rolling Stone; okay, okay, and maybe Martha Stewart Living.