The Hardy Elementary School PTO has come under fire of late for publishing a “Donor Honor Roll” on the independent 501(c) group’s website. The page lists the family names of those who have contributed to the Annual Appeal, along with a Classroom Scorecard listing the percentage of family participation in each of the 15 classrooms at the school.
I didn’t remember this sort of practice from my family’s years at Hunnewell and wondered if, in the six years since we’ve been elementary school parents, this had become de rigueur in the elementary schools around town. I reached out to the Hardy School PTO president, the Hardy School principal, and a few of the other PTOs to find out.
Hardy’s website points out that “Each Year the PTO Spends ~$185 per child toward which we request your (tax deductible) contribution of: $75 per child This is the suggested donation amount, of course. And we appreciate any amount – more or less – that you are comfortable contributing. We strive for participation. Our 2017 goal is for 90% of Hardy families to contribute to the Appeal, an attainable improvement over last year’s 79% participation rate.”
Other schools’ websites point out similar information, and all ask families to donate PTO dues in about the same amount per year as Hardy requests. Those dues cover things like field trips, art enrichment activities, iPads, Smartboards, Science Nights, and printed school directories. Not all schools cover the same things, but you get the general idea. The PTOs exist to provide the schools with all the extras that the budget is unable to provide.
There are parameters, of course. For example, the parents of one school’s PTO cannot put together a playground with zip lines, a rock-climbing wall, and a permanent bouncy house, while another school must make do with only one swing. Capital improvements such as putting on a new roof or repairing the cracked sidewalks cannot be covered by PTO funds.
There does seem to be general agreement, however, that the PTOs in town responsibly manage funds for the good of the students. Sure, there’s sometimes grumbling about why isn’t the money going here instead of there. To that, the PTOs invite all to get involved and help with the decision-making process.
But this practice of making donations to a public school rather public, on a website for all to see, is sticking in the craw of many, and the fact that the policy varies PTO by PTO surprised me. For example, according to Wellesley High School PTO co-president Evelina Tabler, WHS takes a privacy approach. She says “…Wellesley High School does not publish or list the names of families who donate, nor do we share that information with anyone.”
Same with Schofield, according to a PTO representative there who said, “…Schofield does not publish names for its annual PTO dues/donation. We never have. Last year and this year, we published/will publish participation levels to show how many families have donated up to that point. We do this to remind people that they still can donate and that any amount is appreciated. Our suggested donation amount is $50/child but also advertise that any amount is greatly appreciated. We do try to promote how important participation is and exactly what the PTO funds all year long for the students and staff. We also do not tie this donation to receiving a directory or anything else from the PTO.
“When we do fundraisers, such as our Road Race and Fun Fair in June or an auction every 3 years, we do have sponsorship levels available. If a family chooses to sponsor a certain part of the road race/fun fair (a game, prize, food items etc), they can choose to have their name on that particular item as the sponsor. We general follow the standard auction practices when it comes to sponsorship levels and listing of families…We recognize that our school has a diverse community and every family has different means.”
Lee Duvall, co-president of the Bates PTO said, “Bates does not publish or list the names of families who donate to its yearly Annual Appeal. The suggested donation/contribution per child per year is $75…We do not release our PTO annual donations.” Bates does, however, publish a list of their “Monster Sponsors” who contribute to the yearly Pumpkin Fair. By doing this, the school makes a distinction between donations received from yearly dues and special fundraising events. Some other schools employ this distinction as well.
HEARING FROM HARDY PTO
And now for the Hardy School PTO, which frankly is feeling pretty singled out and piled on. Hardy’s PTO President Eli Burstein said, “Yes — this year the Hardy PTO Board discussed some new fundraising options. Since the District’s (very public) recommendation to close Hardy, the reality is that investment in our school and fundraising, in particular, have seen a precipitous decline. So, in an effort to offset that, we have revamped our Annual Appeal and introduced several other new fundraising vehicles.
“One of the changes to the Annual Appeal is the introduction of the Donor Honor Roll. Taking our cue from…St. John’s and PAWS (…which have successfully leveraged various forms of public recognition of their donors), the Honor Roll is simply a vehicle to publicly say thank you, as well as a small incentive to drive more donations. Social science shows that public recognition of charitable donations increases both participation (by 24%) and average donation amount (by 14%)*. And it’s our hope that our families will appreciate the Honor Roll for what it is: public recognition, thanks, and inclusion of all that generously donated, regardless of amount . . . with the sole goal of raising as much as we can for the kids and teachers!
“That said, we have heard from three parents that oppose the Honor Roll. And I can only assume that there are others out there that have similar concerns. So I’d definitely encourage them to reach out and express their opinions. We’re not wedded to any of the changes we’re making this year and we will gladly alter — or do away with — the Honor Roll, if that is the desire of the Hardy community. (We have also, of course, honored the wishes of the several donors that have requested not to be listed on the Honor Roll.)”
Hardy Principal Charlene Cook said, “The Hardy community is extremely caring and giving and they have never held back on supporting our children. As a diverse community we offer multiple ways in which our families can contribute; some contributions are monetary and some are through service like working at a book fair, writing the newsletter or helping out at math night. The notion of using an Honor Roll to identify families contributing dollar amounts was new to Hardy and one that the Hardy PTO is now reconsidering. I strongly agree with the decision the board has made to reconsider the use of the honor roll. We all know that our families care and will do whatever they can to support our students. At Hardy we value RISE which stands or Respect, Include, Safety and Encourage. I do not want our community to feel that our values are compromised and I believe that our PTO board feels the same way.”
And now an anecdote from my childhood, because truly, this wheel has been spun before. This all reminds me of a yearly occurrence at my church growing up. Every year, Father would ask that every family in the church donate $100. Each Sunday during that fundraising time, the bulletin would bring with it the list of names and those who donated the $100 would be printed right there, for all to see. And the names of those who did not donate would not be printed, for all to not see.
My mother would sit there in the pew when Father made his pitch, and she’d huff, and mutter, and sputter. Basically she’d do everything to convey her displeasure about this, except take it up with the priest. Taking it up with the priest wasn’t done back then in my scruffy, working-class town, as least not by the rank-and-file types, which we were. Mom wasn’t exactly an activist. She was more a dig-in-her-heels, resistance type, when it came to it.
She would put her feelings aside, however, knowing what heat, electricity, and the programs cost. Those bills were listed in the bulletin, too — every month. So in response to Father’s request for stewardship, mom would write out our family’s check to the church, not for the requested $100, but for $99. Attached would be a note, “Do not publish my family’s name in the bulletin.”
As a kid, I got it, but a big part of me wanted to let the neighbors know, and that popular girl whose family sat right up front every week and who often brought down the gifts, and the president of the youth group whom I so admired that really, even though we weren’t on the list, we should have been. It was just a matter of $1.
But I knew that it was more than a matter of $1. I knew all about the principal of the thing, and that what we were doing as a family was throwing our lot in with the neighbors and friends who we well knew couldn’t contribute that much monetarily, and to hell with the popular girl and the financially comfortable church members and lists. Especially the hell with lists.
Mom could be subversive that way. That’s basically all I know about how to be a Good Christian Woman and part of what I know about stewardship and responsibility to the institutions that serve our families. With luck, and a bit of prayer, that may be all I need to know.
Here at the Wellesley Public Schools, in our secular society, luck and a bit of prayer aren’t going to cut it. It’s time for debate and decisions. Hardy isn’t the problem here. The real issue is how public should information about public school families be, particularly surrounding the issue of money and donations? Seems like the time for that town-wide conversation has come.