MANATEE -- Desperate financial times in the school district have at least one principal turning to parents with a last-minute appeal to help get his school through the end of the year.
King Middle School Principal Robin Hardy sent out a notice to parents and supporters of King Middle asking for donations to help them get through the end of this school year and the beginning of the next school year. Hardy said in his letter that while he understands the district's need to become financially stable, he does not think the school has enough financial padding to pay all of its own bills through the end of the fiscal year and in the months beyond that.
The letter has some parents alarmed that a public school is turning to donations just for the basics.
"When a school calls and asks me to make a donation and I have to pay not only for my kids' school supplies but additional school supplies for the classroom, I think I've done my part," said King Middle parent Carisa Mitchell in an email to the Herald.
Manatee Diagnostics Center paid for the paper, envelopes and copying cost of the letters Hardy sent out to parents.
Kobee Masiello, the incoming Parent Teacher Organization president and the practice administrator at the Manatee Diagnostics Center, has a child in King Middle. She said she and the leadership team at Manatee Diagnostics were happy to provide the materials and hope to get enough money to keep King Middle school healthy.
"This is the first time I've
ever heard of a school asking for donations because of an internal funds issue," said school board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter.
Masiello said that while she is not happy about the district's financial situation, she doesn't believe the students should suffer because of it.
"As a parent, I feel that we need to do what we can to support schools in these times," Masiello said. "I want to make sure my child and other children have what they need. It is what's best for the children."
However, not all parents are happy with the idea of donating money to their child's public school, especially since they already pay for class supplies at the beginning of the year and donate throughout the year to various programs.
"There should be more ways to generate money than asking us," Mitchell said. "I cannot begin to tell you how upsetting this is to me, as a parent and as someone who's been watching the budget cuts."
Carpenter said that $1.5 million was borrowed from 54 schools, and that affected some schools more than others.
Mitchell said that she supports teachers and the district's schools, but she wishes that the district would have completed some money-saving measures, such as selling properties, sooner.
"There is a lot of wasted money," Mitchell said. "Do my children really need two of each book? And they could have fewer lunch choices to save money. There are ways to conserve and save."
Mitchell said that she and other parents might be more open and willing if the letter had specified where money would go, rather than the open-ended statement that money would be used "for needs here at King."
King Middle School parent Tina Cablish also said that she believes the school would have more success if they had asked for donations rather than personal checks. "I opened the letter and was slapped in the face with it," Cablish said. She added that she does not feel comfortable donating money to a school in these times without knowing where it is going.
"We would fill a trailer or a truck of donations and supplies that they would need," Cablish said. However, she said that she does not feel comfortable being asked to give a personal check.
Cablish is planning on making a suggestion to Hardy to ask for specific donations rather than money.
"It will aggravate me if the school would not take it into consideration," Cablish said.
Cablish said that she is not surprised that the school is asking for some kind of donation.
"Everyone knows the schools are having problems; it is not a secret," she said. "All schools are having problems."
Mitchell said it is still difficult for some parents to conceptualize paying money for a school that is supposed to be funded by tax dollars and state lottery dollars.
Mitchell is becoming so exasperated by the woes of the Manatee County school district that she wants to send her youngest child, an elementary school student, to private school, if she is going to be spending money for her child's education anyway. She said the tuition cost would be worth it.
"I just want my kids to be educated. There is not enough quality in public school education," Mitchell said. "I would like to support teachers, but what is happening with funds is ridiculous. More could be done."
Calls placed to Hardy were not returned.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.