Monday, June 7, 2010

LFP wraps school-cash series

Noticed with interest this weekend the London Free Press capped off its series that began last September where it asked a number of families in the London area to track all the dollars they sent to school with their kids for various reasons.
Reporters Kelly Pedro and Jennifer O'Brien stickhandled this series throughout the school year, with a one-page-plus feature running this Saturday in the print edition that featured two wrap-up articles (one, two) and a Q&A with Minister Leona Dombrowsky on fundraising guidelines. The entire series has been thrown up in a single section of the LFP website.
Kudos to the two reporters (and the editors who were silently behind them) on this series. It's a great example of taking what can be complex policy, or lack thereof, and writing about it in an accessible way. The end result, two dollar figures — over $500 and over $2,500 — that everyone understands.
It also provided a voice and an outlet to parent organizations that have been on the issue of fundraising for school purposes for years, such as school councils, parent involvement committees and People for Education. It's been a thorny issue for some time— an Ottawa Citizen piece published Monday shows some of this context together with a healthy foods guideline.
As I've said here before, I'm envious the LFP did this series. Wish I had thought of it and done it myself.
I do continue to caution on the lack of context in how the paper tackled some of the numbers. It states, matter-of-factly, that fundraising in both boards totaled $28 million in 2008-09 school year. That oversimplifies the actual number. The $28 million is the total school-level generated funds— all the money that flows through school bank accounts for all purposes. Neither board the LFP is citing for that total published detailed school-by-school breakdowns for where this money came from— the Catholic board used to, but didn't in 2009-10. I suspect based on past research the vast majority of those dollars are the nickel-and-dime spending the LFP tracked in the series. But a large component of the amount is also school-based community fundraisers. Things like Terry Fox runs, Jump Rope for Heart and one-off fundraisers. I suspect the 2010-11 figures when released will be higher, as every school in the province did fundraisers for Haiti in January. Those bucks get folded into the number LFP implies is school-based fundraising for classsroom purposes when they're not.
I already know the response to this admittedly very minor quibble— all the money still comes from parents, doesn't it? Well, yes. It does. But the LFP is trying to bolster an argument that all this nickel-and-diming are expenses that should be covered by the province as part of an "equal" (rather, equitable) publicly funded system. In that case, there should have been some context, or further work to break down that $28-million total, to separate the SMART boards from the Terry Fox runs.
OK, I've nattered enough. None of this takes away from how this series was a great idea, overall well-executed and one that should garner some industry acclaim in 2011.


Anonymous said...

I happen to agree with the LFP. The province should be picking up the tab for all that its public system requires.

Parents start off very willing to give and do their part but I've seen more than a few parents become very bitter about how many times in a year they're asked to pay for things.

I bet that most boards in this province don't have a good handle on how much their individual schools charge for things and why.

Nothing would happen if parents just said no to the requests. Education doesn't stop for children.

Also, school councils are set up to handle issues just like this one and are supposed to, at the beginning of each school year publicize a fundraising plan so that parents can budget for the expenses. At the end of each school year the council must again report back to the parents the accounting of fundraising.

I wonder how many boards have let this slip off their radar because they're too busy with other things?