Parents Pay for Top Educational Environment

When Canton parents learned their children’s preschool was moving to the old high school this fall, they quickly pledged to pitch in with the redecorating. They collected a wish list of books, toys, furniture, and electronics from teachers, and then went shopping on their own dime.

Now the parents are launching an even more ambitious campaign — raising as much as $100,000 for a handicapped-accessible playground for the preschool, which includes many autistic children.
In the suburbs south of Boston, active, education-focused parents frustrated with tight school budgets have taken matters into their own hands, accelerating fund-raising efforts that make car washes and bake sales look quaint. Where parents once opened up their checkbooks for team uniforms and field trips, today they help build computer labs, reinstate extracurricular clubs, and revive academic programs lost in budget cuts.

“The $2,000 bake sale, that’s just not enough anymore,” said Jon Carson, the CEO of cMarket, a Cambridge-based Internet auction company whose largest and fastest-growing segment is K-12 education. The convenience and novelty of on line auctions, coupled with collectible and recreational bid items, often make them far more lucrative than live events, he said.

In December, the Sharon High School PTSO turned to cMarket to host an Internet auction that brought in $32,000, more than triple the event’s average yield. It was a windfall for a school whose budget has been stretched past the point of asking for educational frills.

“You would think new dictionaries for Spanish classes are a basic,” said Dianne Needle, who organized the event. “Well, they’re not.” Darlene Borre , who is spearheading the Canton effort, said private donations are an increasingly necessary supplement to crimped public school budgets.
“If it’s just the school doing it, that’s one thing,” Borre said. “If the parents are involved, too, that’s another. We want the playground to be something the whole community can be proud of.”

Education foundations still primarily award grants for enrichment programs that fall outside of the school budget, but more are financing core programs threatened by cutbacks and other educational nuts and bolts. “Extra has taken on a different meaning,” said Carol Rosner, a Milton parent active in PTOs and the Milton Foundation for Education, which raises as much as $300,000 a year. “What once was extra is now a necessity.”

For example, parents two years ago revived the Cohasset Education Foundation, which had fallen inactive, after a failed override vote. Believing they could no longer rely on residents to consistently support higher school budgets, they decided to pass the hat among themselves. In December, they raised $100,000 for a new computer lab.

But school officials’ requests for items previously covered in the budget can put education foundations and parents in an awkward position. Rosner said the Milton foundation, which has established an endowment and raises some $300,000 annually, has denied requests for defibrillators and an emergency phone system. (Read More)


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