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As economy sags, so do PTA donations

TAMPA — Over the summer, the board of directors for Pine­view Elementary School's PTA in Pasco County met at a member's house to put together the upcoming budget.

It was PTA president Katrina Madewell's first time as an officer, and she was excited.

"I believed that I was going to make a big difference," she recalled. "I was going to do better on paper than previous years."

But the economy quickly soured and fundraising dollars at Pineview slowed to a trickle. Now, the PTA finds itself forced to slash items it cannot afford, like a playground for the little ones.

"We made substantially below what we anticipated," Madewell said. "We're going to have to rework our whole budget."

All across Tampa Bay and around the state, PTAs are facing similar setbacks.

The glossy catalogs filled with wrapping paper, cookie dough tins and candles went out as usual. But it appears that this season, there were fewer buyers.

There are no current numbers for money raised across the state so far this school year, but the effects are more anecdotal. Perhaps the best example: The Florida PTA conference this month featured a seminar on "Helping Your Child and School on a Shoestring Budget."

The workshop's description: PTA does not wish for you to nickel and dime your parents to death, so what do you do to sustain your PTA and still help the children in your home, school and community?

Jean Hovey, president-elect of the Florida PTA, who helped lead the seminar, said PTAs are being encouraged to go back to basics, like hosting sock hop dances, homework nights and school cleanup days — anything that draws families to schools and doesn't cost a lot.

"People are working to put food on the table to care for their families, and they can't afford those extra (fundraising) items," Hovey said. "It's going on all over and it's only going to get worse."

Hovey said she is frustrated that PTAs are being asked to provide everyday essentials. One school in Jacksonville can't even afford toilet paper and sought help from a business partner, she said.

"It's bad," Hovey said. "It's now gotten to the point where we're going to have to start cutting programs and teachers."

At Clark Elementary School in New Tampa, it has meant scaling back on PTA-funded programs. So far, the PTA has had to shave about $3,000 from its $70,000 budget.

For example, the Clark PTA funds a rewards store where students shop once a month using play money they receive for good behavior.

The store will now open only every six weeks. It also cut back on spending for teacher appreciation week and are giving less to philanthropies, said PTA president Chris Young.

"It's an anxious time for everyone," Young said. "Everyone is being more careful with their dollars."

Madewell, the PTA president at Pineview Elementary, said instead of selling wrapping paper and nuts, they took a different approach and held a "painless fundraiser" in which parents just donated any amount of money they could afford.

One parent gave $1,000, others nothing.

"I hear people say that they're being asked to do too much," Madewell said. "But you're not at all being pushed into doing anything. If the parents can't, we certainly understand."

It has been even tougher getting businesses to partner up with the school, she said. Another casualty of the economy: Many stay-at-home moms are now looking for jobs, which means fewer volunteers. The school had to cancel its Oktoberfest because of a lack of help.

Madewell said there was one bright spot in the fundraising efforts: The only item that sold well for the school this year was the Entertainment Book — a thick binder filled with money-saving coupons.

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

Get creative to get donations

Here are a few things PTAs can do improve the school without spending a lot of money:

• Hold a walk-a-thon. You don't have to spend a lot to make a lot.

• Get the men involved. Ask Lowe's or Home Depot for discounts or donations of supplies and set aside a special morning for the dads to complete projects around the school.

• Hold a movie night and sell popcorn and drinks.

• Survey parents to see what their occupations or areas of specialty are and tap into them.

• Hold a health and safety fair. Find out if doctors can come to the schools and do vaccinations for flu or other illnesses. Programs that draw parents to the school are a plus.

Source: Eileen Segal, vice president

of Leadership for the Florida PTA

As economy sags, so do PTA donations 11/27/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 1, 2008 4:13pm]
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