Funding plan raises doubts

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, September 16, 2010

Staff Writer

Beaufort County Board of Education members usually see lists of fundraising projects from schools, projects such as candy sales, bake sales and the occasional car wash by one school group or another to raise money for their activities.
They routinely scan those lists little or no discussion.
But a proposal by one Beaufort County school to raise money by asking each of its students to bring in cash donations raised concerns from some school board members Tuesday.
A committee tasked with overseeing the pubic school system’s buildings, grounds and finances took no action on the plan, its members saying they need more time to study it.
“This is so different from what we have been accustomed to. I’d like the opportunity to mull it over a little bit,” said committee Chairman William S. Warren.
A part of the plan that would award homework passes to students in classrooms in exchange for those donations so closely resembled a controversial cash-for-grades plan floated in Wayne County last year that Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said it should immediately be removed from the proposed plan.
Subsequently, it was removed from the plan. 
Tired of hustling candy and wrapping paper each year with little to show for it, the Parent-Teacher Association at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School has come up with a plan to raise money for the school by asking some 600 students at the school to simply bring in cash donations.
It was presented to the committee by school Principal M.E. “Bubs” Carson and PTA President Anne Pagnani.
Pagnani told the committee that the sale of candy, wrapping paper or other products as a fundraising tool brings only about 40 percent of the proceeds from the sales to the school.
“Last year, we had to sell just over $20,400 worth of products to get $8,200 for our school,” she said.
In contrast, all the money raised by the school under the new plan, dubbed Every Penny for Tayloe, would stay at the school.
The money would be used to buy musical instruments for students and supplies for the school’s art classes, computer laboratory and guidance department, among other activities, she said.
“We are looking for 100-percent participation at the school,” she said.
If each student raised $15 in cash donations, that would generate $9,000 for the school, she said.
Carson said the PTA came up with the idea because so many of its members were not only tired of having to peddle products door-to-door but also because so many had complained that the quality of the items they were asked to sell had declined.
One board member applauded the idea.
“This is a great idea,” said Mike Isbell. “This is such a better thing than selling things, which has gotten out of hand.”
But others said they had concerns about some aspects of the proposal.
Board Chairman Robert Belcher had particular concerns about the part of the plan that would reward students with a homework pass in those classrooms with 100-percent participation.
He said he feared it too closely resembled a fundraising scheme proposed in Wayne County that was ultimately rejected as cash-for-grades.
Last November, boosters at Rosewood Middle School in Wayne County proposed a fundraising scheme that would have rewarded students who brought in a $20 donation with 10 extra points on two tests of the student’s choosing. That could have raised a B to an A, or a failing grade to a D.
That proposal was turned back by the superintendent of schools, and the principal at the school later retired as a result of the ensuing controversy.
In an interview after the meeting, Phipps said he shared those concerns.
Warren told the school group that he is concerned that the emphasis on 100-percent student participation would unduly pressure students whose parents could not afford to contribute money or who lived in less-affluent neighborhoods.
“I don’t want them to put untold pressure for all of the students to participate,” Warren said. “We need to be careful about that.”
The school board is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting Tuesday.
In other business, the committee:
• Unanimously approved a proposal from PowerSecure to install generators at Washington High School and P.S. Jones Middle School. The generators will be used to supply emergency power at the schools and enable Beaufort County emergency-management officials to provide shelters for more people in the event of a disaster, the committee was told.
PowerSecure will install and maintain the generators at no cost to the school system. It will recoup its costs from savings seen by reducing charges levied to the City of Washington from peak electrical demand, according to the proposal. The plan will be presented to the school board for its approval Tuesday.
• Voted unanimously to approve a five-year lease with the Bath Recreation Department for use of the recreational fields at Bath Elementary School. The committee gave the go-ahead for the installation of additional lights on the field, capping the costs of the installation at $500.
• Gave the go-ahead for the school system to seek bids for a proposal to provide a wireless Internet system within 11 of the system’s schools.
The school system also is seeking a grant from the Federal Communication Commission that would allow it to purchase the needed equipment at an 80 percent to 90 percent discount.
• Delayed action on a proposal from the Pine Needles Garden Club to plant 50 trees each at John Small Elementary School and P.S. Jones Middle School until it receives more information about the plan.
• Rejected a proposal from Dynateck Inc. to coat the auditorium and storage building at Washington High School at a cost of $8,950 with a material that would more closely match the color of the new roof that is being installed on the main building.
“To simply paint a roof to get it to match is not the way to go right now,” Phipps told the committee.
• Rejected a $105,231.35 bid from Ken Staley Co. Inc. of Liberty to replace the aging bleachers at the Washington High School football field used by visiting-team supporters with new bleachers that would seat at least 1,000 people and comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The committee asked to receive bids for bleachers that would seat 200 to 500 people and comply with the act.
A recent inspection of the existing bleachers revealed that they did not comply with the act and are too old to repair.