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Economy forces school PTAs to get creative

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When it comes to school funding, we focus on the official budget comprised of local, state and federal funds. But there's another significant portion of funding: Money that local PTAs raise to pay for supplies and extras. While CMS officials are deciding how to cut the district's budget by 10 percent, PTAs are rethinking how to meet their fundraising goals. If you ask teachers what they want in their classrooms, their wish lists could include extra art supplies, music and more books for their students. The idea is for these enhancements to help kids learn better. But they don't come from the district or the school. Instead teachers pay for them out-of-pocket or they turn to parents to fill the void. And this is where Parent-Teacher groups and their fundraising come in. David Cox Elementary Principal Chuck Nusinov calls the PTA a "cornerstone" for what schools do academically and in the community. He says, "It goes both ways. By getting parents involved in the school it not only supports the kids but the parents support us to support the kids so it's a really good partnership here at our school." Nusinov says this year, the school has tapped the PTA multiple times to help fund supplies. David Cox PTA President Lynn Comstock says with the poor economy, the PTA just wouldn't be able to do some "big asking" this spring. "We find it's easier if you're asking for a dollar here, a dollar there. Rather than go out and do catalogue sales and you have, you know, family members are usually the ones buying this stuff and people just don't have that these days," says Comstock. Nusinov recently agreed to be duct-taped to a wall by his students, at a dollar a strip. For about three hours he was a piece of wall art after children taped him up for a grand total of $400. The recession is also a factor in this year's spring fundraiser at Park Road Montessori. Park Road's spring event raises money specifically for teachers to spend on classroom extras. Heather Liebler co-chairs the spring silent auction at Park Road. She says this year, the theme is "hands-on." She says, "It's as much what parents, teachers, community members can teach or show students and families, as much as, you know, 'can you donate a gift certificate for $15?'" Liebler says instead of having the usual number of donations from now-closed local businesses, there are more services up for bid. She explains some offerings, "A bike as well as a maintenance session for students to learn how to take care of the bike, we've asked all teachers if they could donate an outing because nothing lights up an elementary student like getting to go to a picnic with their teacher." Or breakfast with the PE teacher, a Duke fan who agrees to wear Carolina Tar Heel blue all day long. Many schools in the district also encourage parents to sign on to grocery store and retail donation programs. Certain stores donate a portion of sales to whatever schools parents choose. This way the schools bypass hitting up parents directly. At Shamrock Gardens Elementary, asking parents to donate just isn't an option. PTA member Pam Grundy explains, "We are an 80 percent-plus free and reduced lunch school and our parents just don't have a lot of money. We don't try to sell them things. Most of the Shamrock PTA's money has come from grant-writing." Grundy says the grants aren't terribly huge. So they're not so much used for classroom supplies. But they pay for things that encourage parent involvement. She says, "We got a grant from Lowe's. We're going to build a butterfly habitat and parents will pitch in with work. When you have a work day, you get a lot of parents. Because they want to help at the school. But it's hard to ask for money." Let alone in tough economic times, says Grundy. This spring she says, the Shamrock Gardens PTA is keeping a close eye on who will have grants to offer.