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PTA fund-raising: a never-ending task

Bake sales, candy sales, Christmas gift wrap, walk-a-thons. You name it, Pinellas County schools have sold it to raise money that helps pay for field trips, class parties and special events like teacher, student or volunteer recognition awards.

But these days, it's not just the extras that those funds pay for. It's computers, classroom supplies and even textbooks.

"These are necessities," said Cindy Ehrenzeller, president of Pinellas County Council PTA. "The tools they need to get the best education possible."

However, fund-raising is not a PTA objective. Child advocacy is.

That's why, like many parents, Ehrenzeller is frustrated that PTAs are paying for things that schools should be able to pay for out of their own budgets, but can't. But because there is a need, parents are taking it upon themselves to raise money for things that schools are not providing.

"I think we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not letting the public know what the needs are," Ehrenzeller said. "PTAs are like the lottery now. They supplant some of the needs, but it's just a Band-Aid."

To her, the perfect PTA would be one where parents' energy is spent on school volunteerism; getting to know their legislators on a first-name basis and putting on more parenting-skill workshops, not raising money.

But until that happens, PTAs will continue to attempt to fill the needs.

Almost all schools plan some type of fund-raising events throughout the year. Often it is the children themselves who are the sales staff.

The school system prohibits schools from allowing students to solicit door-to-door unless they have the superintendent's written permission. But schools are allowed to encourage children to sell items to family and close friends and within their own neighborhoods.

Because many parents are not fond of the idea of their children becoming sales representatives, many PTAs are turning to other fund-raising options.

"It's unfortunate kids have been turned into money machines for our schools. It just never seems to stop," said Curtis Van Leuven, PTA vice president at Anona Elementary in Largo. "There's always a need. The biggest difficulty is trying to find new and innovative ways to raise money."

This year, the school is hosting a golf tournament on Saturday. Van Leuven hopes the first-time event will bring in $3,000 to $4,000 to help pay for wiring the school for the Internet.

"Without their assistance, support and help, it would take us several years to do what we need to do," said Barbara Latham, Anona Elementary principal. "Technology is part of our school improvement plan. They have come forth and joined with us. It's all to increase student achievement."

Carnivals, arts and crafts shows and theme-dinners are good money makers and also help lift some of the responsibility from the children. Most schools receive anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 each year from PTA fund-raisers.

And it isn't just about raising money, said Lori Dion, past president of San Jose Elementary PTA in Dunedin. Her school's annual Hawk Harvest, a bratwurst and hot dog dinner, is tonight.

"It may only bring in $1,000," she said. "But it's a chance for families and the community to come together for some fun and fellowship."