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Last updated: July 31. 2014 9:40PM - 182 Views
By Trip DuBard Contributing Columnist



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A federal nutrition program that places new restrictions on snacks and beverages sold in schools also provides an opportunity for some fresh thinking about school fundraisers.


As reported by The State newspaper recently, The Smart Snacks in Schools program creates a dilemma: how will schools raise private dollars if they can no longer sell snack foods?


“If we can’t sell a candy bar anymore, what can we sell?” asked one school official. “We are going to have to get creative.”


How creative would it be simply to stop selling?


When was the last time your college asked you to buy a candy bar? Non-profits, colleges and universities don’t sell stuff to raise money; they simply appeal for support based on the organization’s mission. Why don’t our public schools?


As a parent, former local PTA officer and public school supporter, I believe such creative thinking could benefit schools in three big areas: dollars kept by the school, financial accountability, and community involvement.


Dollars: Most parents know school fundraisers are big business, raising thousands of dollars for an individual school. This additional cash is used by the principal and/or the school PTA to buy copy machines, computers, library books, and almost anything else within a school.


What most people don’t know, though, is how few dollars the schools actually keep. Would you believe only half? In fact, that may be too generous. “World’s Finest Chocolate” advertises “up to 50 percent” profit. And Sally Foster says schools can expect 40% profit on sales of its cookie dough.


Think about it: people are trying to give twice as much money as the schools actually receive. The other half goes to a for-profit company.


Could there be a better way? Sure. Simply donate directly to the school. Unfortunately, most public schools (The Governor’s School for Science and Math in Hartsville being a notable exception) don’t have development offices like universities and can’t or don’t want to handle direct donations. To get around that, they could ally themselves with a willing non-profit, such as a community foundation or local education foundation.


The answer for more than 160 public schools in counties such as Georgetown, Lee, Horry, York, Dorchester, Spartanburg, Berkeley and Greenwood has been a “Donate Now” button offered by SC Future Minds. The non-profit works like a privately funded development office for public schools, organizing corporate and individual support through programs such as the SC Teacher of the Year Celebration, Spaghetti Night Sponsored by Mueller’s and the Conference of SC Public Education Partners. Instead of keeping “up to 50 percent,” schools using the “Donate Now” button keep 94% of donations, with the rest going to offset SC Future Minds’ transaction costs.


Accountability: Parents join a PTA to support their children. But well-meaning volunteers can soon be over their heads with accounting issues they’re not trained to handle, resulting in embarrassing news stories about missing PTA funds.


Why not separate those duties and allow PTAs to do what they’re good at – connecting parents to school needs – and outsourcing the difficult accounting issues?


Contributions to the “Donate Now” button go to SC Future Minds, a legal 501(c)(3) charity whose finances are audited annually by the Elliot Davis accounting firm. A check is issued from SC Future Minds, along with a spreadsheet showing contributions and fees, directly to the principal of a school, who is easily held accountable through the district’s board and superintendent.


Involvement: If you got a note that your first grade teacher was retiring and asking your help to honor her, wouldn’t you consider a financial contribution to the school? Colleges and universities have vast systems to keep in touch with their graduates, but not K-12 public schools. Online donations help create the databases public schools need to keep graduates in far-away locales connected.


Peddling snacks, wrapping paper or cookie dough to improve programs devalues the great work teachers across South Carolina perform every day and underestimates how much a grateful public values that work. Let’s cut out the expensive middleman and make it easy to support our public schools with easy and accountable online donations.


Trip DuBard is executive director of S.C. Future Minds, which connects private support to public schools across South Carolina. He can be reached at trip@scfutureminds.org.


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