MANATEE — They sell homemade cookies, discount cards and magazine subscriptions, sometimes door-to-door but more often to friends and relatives or through Mom and Dad pestering coworkers.
It’s fall fundraising time in local schools. But with a poor economy and parents scrimping to pay for basics, PTOs and Manatee County School District leaders are finding it hard to come up with money for student extras — like software programs for remedial reading, and books for classroom libraries.
With a shrinking district budget, schools now depend on fundraisers more than ever to help with classroom supplies, extracurricular activities and field trips.
“They help with books for class libraries and also support programs we might not have full funding for,” said Tara Elementary Principal Linda Fouse.
Her school, for example, would not have been able to purchase a $2,500 computer-based program called Runzulli last year to give students an extra push in math and reading.
Fundraisers also help buy playground equipment, which the school spends about $1,000 on annually, Fouse said.
“Fundraising has gone down every year since I’ve been in the PTO for the past five years,” said Tara PTO President Rachel Manning.
Last year’s fundraisers netted about $12,000. This year, they’re hoping for more.
“We are well aware of what the economy has done to our community, but if every student just bought one thing, that would be a huge help,” Fouse said.
Tara typically kicks off its fundraising during the first week or two of classes. But it held off this year to give parents a break after buying back-to-school clothes and supplies.
“We’re trying to give parents a little breather,” Fouse said. So the school’s cookie, brownie and pretzel fundraiser starts Oct. 8.
Anna Maria Elementary’s May Spring Fling — a diner-dance auction — saw less than half the profits last spring as it did the previous year.
“We made $25,000, which sounds like a lot of money, but in previous years we’ve made around $50,000,” said PTO member Joy Murphy.
In past years the school spent the money on computers or field trips, some which cost up to $12 per child to attend, Murphy said. This year, the funds had to go toward printing tests and purchasing textbooks.
“We’re down to what would have been supplied by the school board but is not anymore,” Murphy said. “We’re literally buying paper towels, hand soap and sanitizer.”
Melissa Dossey, whose son Dakoda is a freshman on Manatee High’s football team, sold six discount cards to her co-workers at the Manatee County courthouse to help him raise money.
Dakoda 14, went door to door in the neighborhood.
“He sold 40, the most on the team,” Dossey said. His teammates, she said, didn’t do so hot.
“They asked him how he did it,” she said. “I guess they were having a tough time.”
Manatee High School Principal Bob Gagnon said the school typically has 20 fundraisers going on at any given time.
Much of the fundraising supports transportation.
“Whether it’s the choir going to compete, the band traveling to perform or a class field trip, you really can’t have extracurricular activities if you don’t have buses to get the students there,” Gagnon said. “And all those should be a part of a student’s experience in high school.”
Some local businesses have stepped in to help.
“It’s amazing the level of support we get from the community in light of the economy,” he said. “Some of those businesses can alleviate what a fundraiser might have done in the past. Some step up and say we’ll do that. Wherever we find a little dip, someone steps in.”
The Shake Pit, a local eatery, provides a pregame meal for the football players every home game. Gagnon estimated it costs about $500 a meal.
At Stewart Elementary, which holds an annual silent auction, fundraising is down 40 percent. PTO leaders don’t expect it will increase anytime soon. The 2008-09 fundraisers made $121,500. In 2009-10, fundraisers brought in $91,500.
This year they only expect $75,000, said Paul Sharff, the PTO vice president.
“We used to give each teacher $500 to do anything they needed with their class. Now it’s down to $200,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean things can’t change, he said.
“One thing parents can do if they don’t have money is to give their time,” Sharff said. “If you can, go in and help in a classroom.”
That’s what’s happening at King Middle School.
Sharff and a group of other parents met Thursday night to form the first PTO at King.
“Now with how the economic times are, parents are needed more than ever,” Sharff said. “If we can’t help them out as much financially as we did years ago, we can help with our efforts.”
A magazines sale at King ended Friday, but a total was not immediately available. Funding will go toward the school’s Renaissance event, which can cost up to $6,000. It’s a student recognition program that rewards children for good grades or behavior.
The school typically gives out T-shirts for the event, but last year could not.
“We just didn’t have enough money,” said Robin Hardy, King’s principal. “Fundraisers allows us to do those extra things for students, the fun things. The rewards they deserve.”