Montgomery school community members thinking of new system for private contributions -- Gazette.Net



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Some Montgomery County schools community members say the playing field could be evened for private contributions that pay for facility improvements at local schools.

Possible methods, they say, could include a central funding pool or guidance to schools with less fundraising experience and fewer resources.

Three public meetings in early May drew about 50 parent-teacher association members, booster club leaders and other people from around the county. They discussed private contributions that pay for nonessential facility projects and items in Montgomery County Public Schools, such as playground equipment, scoreboards and butterfly gardens.

The meetings are part of a larger effort to explore the possible need for school system policy changes. The goal is to see if board action is necessary to make the situation fairer for schools in less affluent areas.

The policy on private contributions for facility improvements includes money from PTAs, booster clubs, businesses and local government agencies.

Large contributions come up once in a while, but more often in the county’s more affluent communities, according to Bruce Crispell, director of the school system’s Division of Long-range Planning. Contributions under $1,000 were most common from 2011 through 2013, followed by contributions in the $1,000 to $3,000 range.

At all three meetings, participants discussed the potential use of the Montgomery County Public Schools Educational Foundation, Inc. as a central point for contributions.

The foundation — a nonprofit organization the county school board established to receive money from a variety of sources — could distribute money to facility improvement projects around the county, some said.

Yolanda Johnson Pruitt, the foundation’s executive director, said at the May 7 meeting at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring that the foundation has focused on providing college scholarships and teachers grants.

The organization is “just getting into that area” of facility improvements, Pruitt said, and she thinks it could help schools organize fundraising efforts.

“I think the foundation could take a bigger role,” she said.

Participants at the meetings discussed whether individuals could put their money toward a general fund and how much schools might be required to contribute.

Jill Ortman-Fouse, a school system parent who is running for a county school board seat, said she has seen others donate to those in need outside their school community.

“There’s a consciousness we have to acknowledge,” she said.

Others voiced concerns about an idea to direct some percentage of money a school raised above a certain amount to the general fund.

Bill Burchett, president of Richard Montgomery’s booster club, described his school’s recent efforts to raise about $20,000 for two scoreboards.

Citing the example of a 15- or 20-percent contribution requirement, he said he thinks donations would drop significantly if his community had to direct that percentage outside the school, creating more work to raise what it needed for its project.

Some participants from the May 5 meeting at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown supported the idea of contributing to a county pool, but not making it mandatory.

The groups also discussed how to potentially strengthen the ability of some schools to raise money.

Cathy Stocker — vice president of the Friends of Westbrook School Foundation and PTA president at Chevy Chase Elementary School — said she helped raise about $247,000 for improvements to the all-purpose room and courtyard at Westbrook Elementary School in Bethesda.

The lessons she learned could benefit others, she said.

“We can be a tremendous resource to each other,” Stocker said, and “anyone, anywhere” can do what she did.

Another participant at the Springbrook High discussion disgreed that any parent could achieve the same fundraising feat, saying the skills are not “easily transferrable” to parents facing challenges, such as working multiple jobs or language barriers.

“This is the reality of many schools in the county,” she said.

Crispell said participants from the third meeting at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac who had been through the fundraising process described it as “a real learning curve,” but thought there might be a way to transfer their knowledge.

The input from the meetings will go to a steering committee studying the issue. The steering committee will send a report to the county school board’s policy committee, likely by the end of the school year, Crispell said.

lpowers@gazette.net