Clarification on Philadelphia public school appeals for private funds

 Greenfield Elementary School is seen in Center City Philadelphia in this Google street-view image. (Google Maps - ©2013 Google)

Greenfield Elementary School is seen in Center City Philadelphia in this Google street-view image. (Google Maps - ©2013 Google)

Some readers have said that a recent story about an elementary school principal asking parents for money to cover operating expenses mischaracterized the nature of donation requests at five other schools. Here we hope to clarify and sharpen those distinctions.

On Friday, Greenfield Elementary Principal Dan Lazar emailed parents asking for $613 per student to cover operating expenses based on the district-wide $304 million budget shortfall.

In the story I wrote covering this development, I included a list of five other schools that have at some point used private dollars to fund staffing positions.

The article, however, failed to explain the exact nature of those funding requests and who exactly did the asking. Some readers said they thought the article too closely associated the five schools in question to what has happened at Greenfield.

Here I hope to clarify and sharpen those distinctions:

At William M. Meredith

Like parents at Greenfield, parents at William M. Meredith were asked to make a per-pupil donation to cover budgetary shortfalls. Unlike Greenfield, the ask did not come directly from the principal (Cindy Farlino). Rather, it came from the Meredith Home and School Association “in conjunction” with the principal.

Principal Farlino did not respond to my request for comment, but NewsWorks was able to obtain a copy of the letter sent to parents in June.

In the letter, HSA presented parents with a “Meredith Matters Budget,” which spelled out a $445,840 budget shortfall for the following line items:

dean of students
counselor
foreign language teacher
secretary
full-time nurse
support staff
books and supplies
fully funded arts program
student iPads

The HSA said it would make an immediate $90,000 donation to the effort. Parents were asked to pitch in $670 per student to cover the rest of the costs and were presented with an option to pay in $56 dollar monthly installments.

“As parents ourselves”, the letter read, “we fully recognize the enormity of this ‘ask’ and the burden it puts on families. We intend to make every effort to make corporate, foundation, and other non-parent funding. However, we also need parents to commit to getting that total.”

At Cook-Wissahickon

Cook-Wissahickon has used private dollars to fund positions but not via a direct request from the principal.

Principal Karen Thomas broke it down this way:

When our budget was cut in December of 2011 (all schools had a mid-year cut), we lost our three noontime aides, who handle breakfast and lunch duties. Because this created an unsafe situation during these times of the school day, our Home and School Association in conjunction voted to use money they had on hand from prior fundraisers to fund the return of one of these positions for the second half of the 2011-12 school year. The cost was approximately $4,000. Another noontime aide’s salary was funded for the remainder of the school year by a benefactor, Progressive Business Publications, in February of 2012.

Thomas said there should be a clear distinction between a principal’s request and the fundraising efforts of the home and school association.

At Central High School

Also dealing with the budget cuts of 2011, Central High School used private dollars to rehire its lead non-teaching assistant.

Shelly Pavel, the former principal of Central, wrote:

The lead NTA, who was magnificent, was laid off before the end of calendar year 2011. When she came up to be rehired in February or March, the only way it could happen was for us to create funding. It was a cooperative alumni/home-and-school effort.

Pavel estimates the coalition rasied $25,000 to fund the NTA. The position didn’t last long. The aide was laid off again at the end of the year.

At Science Leadership Academy

Science Leadership Academy has also relied upon its home and school association to fund staff positions. Principal Chris Lehmann wrote: “The SLA Home and School has raised money for the school every year, and there was a greater urgency this year with the cuts to the budget.”

Lehmann did not respond to a request for further details.

At Penn Alexander

Philadelphia School District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed that as many as six Penn Alexander teaching positions per year are funded with private dollars from the University of Pennsylvania.

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