Parent council floats centralized fundraising for schools

Chair says parents feel pressured to satisfy school 'wish lists'

District Parent Advisory Council chair Colin Redfern wants to discuss a centralized fundraising body for Vancouver schools at a citywide meeting of parent advisory councils Oct. 11.

Redfern says a centralized body could take the reins from PAC volunteers to raise "major funds."

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But Redfern, the son of a teacher, adds centralized fundraising isn't the answer for schools facing shortages of equipment and material.

"It's better for us to lobby the government to increase funding and try to diminish the reliance on fundraising, to get out of the big-dollar fundraising business," he said. ". Are we going to keep doing it to the point where our schools become inequitable?"

Redfern says parents face increasing fundraising pressure to respond to school "wish lists" that include maintenance, playgrounds, technology, books and paper rather than extras such as new sports uniforms and field trips.

"We're trying to compensate for the parity we had in the past by a free enterprise model," said Redfern. "It's not an East Side/ West Side thing. You can have a school that's in a fairly middleclass neighbourhood but the parents are working 12 hours day, plus you have to get your kids to everything now. You try to get [parents] to volunteer to do fundraising stuff, they're going, 'Are you kidding me? Here's 20 bucks.'"

Richer PACs sometimes share with "sister" schools in need.

But Redfern says a parent from an elementary school in Kerrisdale told him its sister school wanted food at Christmas, but the wealthier school sent art supplies.

Redfern envisions a centralized office that could raise money through specific committees. He acknowledged the foundation that once raised money for public schools was eliminated because its operation was costly.

Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said donors can contribute to schools through the board's website, but few do. "People generally want to direct their donations to a specific school or a specific program," she said.

Terri Bardon, chair of the PAC for Queen Victoria Annex on East Third Avenue at Victoria Drive, said in an email that she couldn't comment on centralized fundraising on behalf of her PAC peers. "We are a small school and I feel that taking on a 'have not' school would tax our parent base and perhaps lead to volunteer burnout and fundraising malaise," she said.

Bacchus says calculating donations to each school is difficult because they receive gifts that include iPads, win grants from third parties to construct new playgrounds and money from charitable foundations.

Based on charitable tax receipts issued during the last school year, the average amount of money donated per elementary student in Vancouver varied little from East to West Side. But East Side secondary schools received an average of $11.88 per pupil compared to the West Side average of $23.87 per student. "In both [elementary and secondary school] cases, there're schools with as little as just over $2 per student and as high as $60 to $70 per student, and that's not necessarily an east/west correlation," Bacchus added.

Bacchus said PACs were never meant to be fundraisers. They were created through legislation to provide advice on the operation of schools. PAC 101 runs from 7 to 9: 30 p.m. in Room 400 at 1580 West Broadway. All parents with children in the public education system are welcome to attend. Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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