After student fee collection website shuttered, Park City PTOs scramble for funding
When the Park City Board of Education voted earlier this year to remove student fees, people throughout the community were happy to see the Board taking steps to achieve its equitability goals. But as the school year started and groups that had depended on the fee collection website to gather donations were watching their contributions remain stagnant, there was a scramble to quickly find a solution.
Now, after missing out on one of their most lucrative fundraising efforts of the year, some of the parent-teacher organizations, and even the Park City Education Foundation, are off to a bad start.
Lisa O’Malley, the fundraising chair of Ecker Hill Middle School’s PTO, said there was an 85 percent decrease in the PTO’s donations this fall compared to last year. She said the decrease was due to the Board’s decision to remove school fees and, in turn, the fee collection web page. On that page, parents could check boxes to donate to a PTO and the education foundation. Without the website, those organizations did not have an easy way to collect money.
Ecker Hill’s PTO ended up asking parents to write checks during registration. Melissa Garland, president-elect of the PTO, said it was inefficient because people rarely carry checks with them.
“Essentially all of the PTO organizations went from getting a guaranteed chunk of money to nothing,” Garland said.
She said the PTO is supportive of the Board’s decision to eliminate fees so classes are more accessible to students, but there were some unforeseen repercussions. Jen Billow, associate director of communications and development of the foundation, said the foundation supported the Board “100 percent.”
“You don’t want to exclude anyone from taking classes that they want, and we want those classes to have an equal distribution of kids, not just the kids who can afford it,” she said.
But, the suddenness of the change was a difficult blow. She found out about the removal of the school fee and donation website in August, as did many of the PTOs.
Elaine Murray, president of Treasure Mountain Junior High’s PTO, said she was caught off guard by the shift. She was told the PTO would be able to use the fee collection website for one more year, but when she got to the school’s registration, she saw that it was not the case.
She collected checks and cash from people until she worked out a system with the school so parents could write a check or swipe their cards for both yearbooks and PTO dues. Without the cooperation of the school, Murray said the PTO would have raised only one-third of the money it typically raises at the start of the year.
The education foundation is in a different situation. Each year, it holds a phone-a-thon, during which students and leaders of the foundation call parents who have not donated to the foundation yet. Billow said over the last five years, the foundation has reached its fundraising goal before the phone-a-thon. This year, the foundation needs people to donate or it will not be able to pay for some programs.
“That puts in jeopardy funding programs that the schools count on for next year,” she said. “It’s hard to start the year off with a hole.”
The foundation funds several programs throughout the district, such as afterschool programs, elementary art classes, the Park City Center for Advanced Professional Studies and Latinos in Action. PTOs typically help pay for school and classroom supplies, guest speakers, book fairs, parties and other events. Sometimes, they provide funding for small teacher grants.
Garland said Ecker Hill’s PTO plans to make up the deficiency by holding a fundraiser called Color for Kindness, during which students who perform random acts of kindness are sponsored by their friends and family. For each act of a kindness, a sponsor can donate $1, for example. The event is set to run from Monday, Oct. 29 to Nov. 9
The PTO hopes to raise about $48,000 over the two weeks, or $60 a student. Ecker Hill’s PTO was already planning on holding the event before it found out that the fundraiser would be a necessity. Now, the PTO is dependent on the fundraiser pulling through.
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.