Successful middle-school fundraiser divides the funds equally

Community in Action

In fundraising, change is risky. Middle school parent-teacher-student associations have relied for a decade or more on magazine sales to raise money, but they decided to do something different for 2016-17. The magazine drive was replaced by a simple request for donations from parents, businesses and other members of the community.

The risk paid off, financially and otherwise. PTSAs had set a goal of raising $30,000 during the two-week fundraiser, which concluded on October 7. They raised a little more than $49,000, Bellingham Public Schools Foundation Executive Director Kim Lund said. The foundation, which partnered with the PTSAs to facilitate this change, handles the funds on behalf of the organizations.

Fundraising organizers decided selling magazine subscriptions was not the best way to raise money. Students went door-to-door making sales when they should be free to concentrate on learning. Also, schools typically get about 40 percent of the proceeds from magazine drives, with the rest going to a for-profit venture. By simply asking the community make a donation through the foundation, schools and students are able to realize 100 percent of the take.

Another shortcoming with middle-school fundraising was identified and fixed: the inequity in funding at the four schools. Income levels are not the same in the neighborhoods served by Fairhaven, Kulshan, Shuksan and Whatcom middle schools, and some PTSAs raise more money than others — even though all four PTSAs work hard at fundraising. So, the four associations agreed to split the proceeds from this year’s fundraiser equally.

Shuksan Middle School benefits from the change. Shuksan has the highest proportion of free-and-reduced-lunch students among middle schools — about 60 percent. Principal Amy Carder said the old way of fundraising created a vicious cycle: The PTA would raise less money than other schools, which meant fewer learning opportunities created for students.

“We’re trying to do something that is more fair,” Carder said. “The PTSAs have come together in that understanding and have been so supportive.”

Whatcom PTSA Co-President Elizabeth Boyle has championed the new approach to fundraising. Whatcom, incidentally, has a lower free-and-reduced-lunch rate than the school district as a whole.

“It’s exciting to support all students in our community having access to special programs brought to the school from their PTSA,” Boyle said. “By sharing the donations that come in to the schools, we’re able to ensure that all students and teachers are equally supported.” This is exactly what’s called for in the “One Schoolhouse” approach built into the Bellingham Promise: “an equitable distribution of resources and services to ensure excellence for all.”

“It would be exciting to see this model duplicated at other levels and in other areas outside of Bellingham,” Boyle said. “It’s refreshing to think of ourselves beyond our own school walls, and really considering ourselves one big schoolhouse that together is so much stronger.”

Unfortunately, fundraising, levies and bonds remain a necessary part of public education while the state delays addressing significant funding gaps. Project Free Education strives to reduce financial burdens on families.

The official middle-school fundraising period is over, but that doesn’t mean people can’t still contribute. The Bellingham Public Schools Foundation offers a way to donate online at













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