Community complains of fund-raising overload

Increasing number of youth promotions, door-to-door sales calls school-program funding into question

By JOSH NICHOLS
Daily Press writer
Craig residents have recently been greeted by a barrage of red nosed, stocking hat- and snow boot-wearing children, selling items that many say they don't need, but think they have to buy. This fund-raiser overload for valid school projects is being questioned by community members.
Bettina Magas was concerned enough about the situation to address the Moffat County Board of Education during the "Let's Listen" session at this week's board meeting.
"It's come to my attention that there is a tremendous amount of fund-raising in the community," she said. "I've been hit by six different organizations in the past two weeks. My concern and other community members' concern is it's gotten out of hand."
There's eight different schools in the county and within those different schools are numerous sports teams, clubs and organizations, many of which conduct fund-raisers throughout the school year.
Add to this number the boy scouts, 4-H, church groups and many other organizations that conduct door-to-door sales and fund-raising drives.
Administrators in the school district say they are doing what they can to control the number of promotions, and that this problem is not a new one.
Pam Foster, owner of Pam Design Interiors in downtown Craig, said she doesn't have six children come to her business every two weeks, but six children in a day sometimes.
She questioned why people in the community are asked to contribute more when their taxes were recently raised.
"No one realizes how often we get hit a day for money from schools," she said. "And there was just a mill levy passed three years ago."
In a way, she said, children are being used.
"It really exploits children," she said. "How do you turn down a cute little child?"
A solution might lie in better coordination amongst the schools, she said.
"The schools all need to get together," she said. "They need to have a central channel so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing."
Magas said the children mean well but people get tired of so many children coming to their homes and businesses.
"I feel it puts children in an awkward position," she said. "You just have to say no sometimes. It's difficult for community members and businesses."
The community pays taxes to support the schools, she said, and wondered why its residents are being hit up for more money.
"My concern is that as a school district should we be promoting so many fund-raisers? It's great they're getting new equipment, but do they really need it?" she asked. "If there's truly a need, it should be in the budget. The bottom line is, it comes down to money again and is the district utilizing its money properly?"
Magas suggested another approach to fund-raising.
"I'd like to see fund-raisers where they do work or community projects instead of selling products," she said. "I'd be happy to pay a child to rake the leaves."
Audrey Hoffman, who owns Skull Creek Trading Company with her husband, Karl, said their business gets a lot of children in it selling as well.
She's learned that she has to say no sometimes.
"You can always say no," she said. "As far as kids coming in selling, we don't always buy."
One observation Hoffman's made, is some people are asking downtown merchants for business without returning the favor.
"We have parents come in with their children wanting money who have never been in our store before," she said.
Carol Wilson, owner of Neolithics, has her own method of dealing with the many students coming in with fund-raisers.
"Being a girl scout volunteer I know how important fund-raisers are," she said. "I try to support the ones I can. I try to take turns and support different ones because there's a limited amount of money one can spend. It doesn't really bother me. They're doing what they have to."
Interim superintendent Pete Bergmann said the concern being expressed by the community is not a new.
"Basically this is an ongoing issue with the schools," he said. "Every year I've been an administrator we've brought the issue to the table. That's why we have a policy that addresses it."
Three guidelines are outlined under the fund-raising policy.
They include:
Fund rasing activities by clubs, organizations or groups shall be kept to a minimum.
Such fund-raisers shall be limited. All fund-raisers shall have prior approval of the superintendent.
Any club sponsors or staff member shall conduct a fund raiser after a meeting with the building principal or his designee.
Although he has oversight, Bergmann said it is difficult to limit sales by different groups.
"When a school or group wants to improve the quality of a program it's hard to tell them they can't," he said. "We try to balance the pursuit of quality with the impact on the community."
But Bergmann has taken note of community members' concerns, and agreed with one suggestion by Magas.
"The plan at this point is to take a close look at fund-raisers at every building," he said. "I would like to see us get away from product sales and make it more service oriented, then map it out on a calendar."
It's still a difficult issue, he said.
"We need to ask the question if fund-raisers are necessary to have a quality program," he said. "The schools are walking a tight line. It's a balancing act the district must walk and continually monitor."
Bergmann himself feels the squeeze from money seekers.
"I spent over $100 the past week on school fund-raisers," Bergmann said. "As a citizen of the community, I'm asking myself the question if this is too much."
East Elementary recently completed its annual candle drive where it raised over $8,000 to purchase new playground equipment.
Principal Guy Gladden said he is aware of the concern in the community, which is why East conducts only one large fund-raiser annually.
"I'm as concerned as anybody that you can't nickel and dime everybody," Gladden said. "I know it's hard to support everybody. That's why we try to do just one big fund-raiser."
Three years ago the board had enough money to help East purchase playground equipment, Gladden said, but since then the school has had to rely solely on candle sales to upgrade its playground.
"We spend most of our curriculum money on books," he said. "But I think it's just as important for children to get out on the playground for physical activity, and our playground was in sad shape three years ago."
Whether it's a school organization or one of other numerous organizations in the community conducting fund-raisers, it's difficult to say no because they're all good causes, Gladden said.
John Ponikvar, owner of NAPA auto parts who served on the school board up until two years ago, said one of his concerns as a school board member was the number of fund-raisers in the community.
It was suggested then that more services be offered in the place of door to door fund-raisers, he said.
"I thought it was being way overdone," he said. "It's been curtailed in the last few years from what it was."
But not curtailed enough in the minds of some community members.
Bergmann said the issue will likely be brought back for discussion at next month's school board "Let's Talk" session.

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