By Sarah CR Clark
In a world of continual change in our neighborhood schools, one tradition remains constant: fundraising.
Besides generating upwards of $10,000 to $74,000 for educational programs, school fundraising campaigns create community and culture within our neighborhoods. Each school community executes and evaluates their fundraising efforts differently and then uses its money in its own unique ways. The list ranges from field trips to classroom supplies.
Yet, a common truth is clear: the long-standing practice of school fundraising is now a necessity
“It’s no secret that our schools do not have the money they need to provide successful learning environments for all of our kids,” said Jon Schumacher, past member of the St. Paul School Board and resident of St. Anthony Park. “We do our best and have amazing educators and staff, who somehow make it work, but it is not sustainable.”
For years, the forms school fundraising has taken are many and varied. Some initiatives are ongoing through the year. For example, families and neighbors of Saint Anthony Park and Falcon Heights Elementary schools are invited throughout the year to dine at participating restaurants that donate a portion of their evening’s sales to the schools. Neighbors can also collect box tops or other items for schools to use in rewards programs.
Other fundraisers are one-time events such as Give to the Max Day, book fairs, read-a-thons, auctions, senior parties and carnivals. These single events often become part of the school’s culture.
“Our spring Family Fun Night is probably the best event we put on in the school,” said Jodi Burth, treasurer of the Falcon Heights Elementary School PTA. “It’s a great community event that kids absolutely love and last year we raised $11,500 for our school.” The events included a raffle, auction, prizes, and decorations.
A similar event, the Spring Carnival at St Anthony Park Elementary, is a long-standing tradition dating back to at least the 1950s. Principal Karen Duke attended SAP as a student in the 1970s and fondly remembers the carnival.
“It was the social event of the season,” Duke said, “kicking off the summer, even then! I recall that it was even pretty similar, with cake walk, carnival games, and a jumpy house outside, just like now.”
However, not all successful fundraisers are longstanding. Laura LaCroix-Dalluhn, president of the Como Park Senior High Booster Club, said she hopes their Homecoming Fun Run becomes a beloved tradition.
“Our 2019 Fun Run was a success—parents, staff, and students ran/walked the lake and returned to food trucks and activities before the Homecoming game,” she said.
Each school has a dedicated group of parents and staff who lead fundraising efforts. These groups are also charged with evaluating their efforts. The Como Park Booster Club considers profits as an indicator of their success, but LaCroix-Dalluhn said they may “also discontinue activities based on feedback from the Como community.”
Similarly, the Falcon Heights PTA collects feedback from teachers and staff about its fundraisers. “Our read-a-thon went through a major revamp about two to three years ago to build excitement and engagement,” Burth said. “We used teacher and parent input to add a unifying theme and activities. We also added a celebratory closing assembly.”
Last year their special guest was Roseville native and Olympic gold medalist, Lee Stecklein.
Meanwhile, the St. Anthony Park School Association recently surveyed families via online and paper forms about fundraising, school community and school priorities. SAPSA President Lauren Renner said the survey’s data helped shape their fundraising plan for the current school year, including adding more community building events, bringing back Dine Out night and eliminating a direct-selling fundraiser. Renner reflected, “There was lots of feedback to suggest people weren’t interested in doing the type of fundraiser where kids had to sell products.”
SAPSA hopes “to participate in a conversation with teachers and administrators at school to make sure our fundraising budget reflects the diverse beliefs and priorities of our school community,” Renner said.
The constant invitations families receive to participate in fundraising efforts can sometimes feel overwhelming. Some parents have reported having negative thoughts or anxious feelings about fundraising events. Some say they would rather make a one-time donation to the school than participate in multiple efforts.
And yet, the need for fundraising from those who can afford to donate seems unavoidable. Schumacher explained, “Seventy six percent of SPPS students are on free or reduced lunch so the capacity of their families to give additional money is challenging—especially with property taxes rising in many of the areas they live or own homes.”
Each school has its own fundraising goals, ranging from $10,000 to $74,000. These funds are often used to pay for field trips; classroom supplies and technology; and staff appreciation events. Como High also uses its raised funds to support, among others, specialized groups (Big Brothers Big Sisters and ELL), athletic programs and instrumental music. SAP’s funds also support artist-in-residence programs, a tutoring coordinator, speaker series, Destination Imagination and more.
“We are lucky to have a community so willing to support us financially,” Duke said. “Of course, I would also always like our schools to be better funded so that fundraising wouldn’t be so critical.”
For instance, SAPSA now has to fund library coordination to cover loss of personnel due to St. Paul Public School budget cuts.
Schumacher noted, “Until the Legislature fully funds our public schools, we have to fundraise from those who have capacity and a commitment to public education so that we ensure every child gets the education they need to succeed.” If you are interested in supporting your neighborhood schools, please reach out directly: St. Anthony Park Elementary, 651-293-8735; Falcon Heights Elementary, 651-646-0021; Murray Middle School, 651-293-8740; and the Como Park Senior High Booster Club, spps.org/domain/1107.