Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 18, 1999
The fundraising struggle
Catholic school districts seek to respond to bishop's challenge
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Fundraising in schools is alive and well but now some Catholic school districts are beginning to wonder if it is the right thing to do.
School districts are especially concerned about schools relying on casinos and bingos to raise funds for their needs and wants.
"A number of boards across Alberta are examining the issue to determine the size of the problem," noted Lois Burke-Gaffney, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association.
In November Calgary Bishop Fred Henry scolded Catholic trustees for allowing fundraising in schools, urging them to lobby the government for proper funding for education instead.
Henry said he was "embarassed at times by our own Catholic reliance on bingos and on other means of raising revenues for our programs."
School districts have been doing just that but some have taken an extra step. The Calgary Catholic district, for example, will hold a round table discussion Jan. 29 to look at the moral issues that surround fundraising.
Calgary Catholic began to look at the fundraising issue in May after realizing schools in the district raise more than $8 million a year on their own.
That figure includes items such as school yearbooks and tuition charges but not more controversial funds raised through casinos. Board chair Linda Wellman says the district does not yet know how much money is raised through those activities.
Wellman says the district is prepared to take a strong stand on the issue but it's not willing to go at it alone.
"We realize it is not good for just Calgary Catholic to take a direction if it's not a direction taken by the parishes or by other Catholic school districts in the province."
Edmonton Catholic is currently collecting data to determine how much fundraising is going on in schools before tackling the issue.
In the long run the district, in concert with parent councils, may end up setting up an administrative policy on fundraising, said superintendent Terry Fortin.
The Elk Island Regional School Division, which comprises Camrose, Fort Saskatchewan and Sherwood Park, has left the issue at the discretion of schools and school councils because "you can't have a blanket policy covering everybody," said superintendent Patrick Maguire.
But that doesn't mean the division isn't concerned, said board chair Ken Lesniak. The board has been actively lobbying for increased education funding to lessen fundraising in schools.
Lesniak said Elk Island may start looking at the issue at budget time. He said most fundraising is healthy but if the board finds that schools are relying on fundraising to provide essential services then it would take action.
"If we see that they are fundraising to purchase math books, then we'll get concerned. If it is for a trip, then that's not essential."
So far fundraising is being done mostly by parent societies over which the board has little control, Lesniak said.
Maguire said, "In most cases parents just want to help (the school) acquire something. They are well-meaning parents."
Gordon Deck, board chair of the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division, said trustees have not yet discussed the issue. "At this stage we've left it at the discretion of the schools."
Calgary and Edmonton Catholic feel that before setting a policy they must find out whether fundraising is putting undue pressure on school staff and whether it is done to fund needs or simply wants.
"We will set some parameters but not before we do a complete study of the issue," Fortin said.
So far his feeling is that the percentage of fundraising being done by school councils is "not that high."
Most of it is being done by independent school societies, he said. Edmonton Catholic schools generate an average of $272 per student per year, not including the money raised by school societies.
Calgary Catholic has found that most parent councils are raising funds through activities such as hot dog sales, T-shirt sales, chocolate almond sales.
"There were very few schools that had actual casinos," Wellman said. "So I think what we need to get into is the societies to determine the extent of the problem."
Edmonton and Calgary have active societies, especially in the high school area, which raise funds for everything from athletics and bands to out-of-province trips and competitions.
"I think that as far as the actual schools are concerned, and the school councils, it's very little and almost no fundraising through bingos and casinos," Wellman said.
Despite the fact "education in the province is underfunded," Calgary Catholic still provides its schools with the basics education needs, noted Wellman.
"In most cases schools fundraise to enhance the curriculum," she said. "The question we must answer is whether we are fundraising for needs or wants."
Fortin said in some cases schools may be fundraising for real needs, especially in the area of technology. "There is a lack of funding in technology. The $40 (allocation for technology) per student doesn't even cover the hardware."
Education in Alberta is generally underfunded and only a substantial increase in the per student grant will curtail the need for fundraising, Fortin said. The district gets $3,860 annually per student. Fortin said an increase of between two and 10 per cent is needed.
See earlier story: Henry delivers tongue lashing to trustees