A group of Montgomery County lawmakers is worried that private donations for scoreboards, gardens and sound systems at public schools are unfair to students whose parents can't raise the same funds.
In a letter to School Board President Christopher Barclay, the County Council's Education Committee asked the board to reconsider the decade-old policy that allowed Damascus High School's Athletic Booster Club to raise $110,000 for a new scoreboard, a purchase the County Council approved earlier this month, and Winston Churchill High School to spend $80,000 upgrading its scoreboard last school year.
"It's not just about capital projects, but it's about all kinds of inside-the-classroom projects, like Promethean boards, labs, all kinds of things that private fundraising is able to purchase for some schools," Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, and chairwoman of the Education Committee, said when the council approved Damascus's scoreboard. "Other schools do not have the same kind of reach, and so we believe this creates inequities that are completely tied to, some would say, why there's an achievement gap in certain areas of the county."
|A sample of donated projects|
|School||Project description||Funded by||Amount|
|Winston Churchill High School||Scoreboard upgrade||Booster Club||$80,000|
|Clarksburg High School||Electronic message display||School Independent Activity Funds||$30,100|
|Clarksburg High School||Dugouts||Booster Club||$30,000|
|Paint Branch High School||Electronic sign||School Independent Activity Funds||$28,565|
|Poolesville High School||Press box and storage shed||Booster Club||$25,000|
|Seneca Valley High School||Scoreboard||School Independent Activity Funds||$22,336|
|Cashell Elementary School||Playground improvements||Dannon grant||$20,000|
|Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School||Replace electronic sign||School Independent Activity Funds||$18,000|
|Potomac Elementary School||Redesign all-purpose room||Parent Teacher Association||$10,000|
|North Bethesda Middle School||Eight hand dryers||School Independent Activity Funds||$8,000|
|Cashell Elementary School||Courtyard structures and plantings||School Independent Activity Funds||$6,500|
|Monocacy Elementary School||Sound system in all-purpose room||Parent Teacher Association||$5,000|
|Montgomery Blair High School||Rain garden||Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection||$5,000|
|Seven Locks Elementary School||Landscaping||Educational Foundation||$5,000|
|Burning Tree Elementary School||Upgrade lounge||Parent Teacher Association||$4,000|
|Flower Hill Elementary School||Courtyard/gardens||Lowe's grant||$3,500|
|Burning Tree Elementary School||Raised vegetable beds||Parent Teacher Association||$2,500|
|Forest Knolls Elementary School||Container gardens||Whole Foods Market/Audubon Naturalist Society||$2,500|
|Garrett Park Elementary School||Container gardens||Whole Foods Market/Audubon Naturalist Society/GreenKids||$2,500|
|Tilden Middle School||Wall mural||School Independent Activity Funds||$2,500|
|Robert Frost Middle School||Organic garden||Silver Diner||$2,000|
|Bannockburn Elementary School||New school sign||Parent Teacher Association||$1,300|
|North Bethesda Middle School||220V outlet in main office||School Independent Activity Funds||$800|
|Source: Montgomery County Public Schools|
Current policy allows parent and community organizations, private organizations, businesses and non-Montgomery County government bodies to pay for projects for which the school system is not required by law to pay. They could not pay for renovations that create more student capacity or modernize classrooms, for example. Any projects that cost more than $50,000 must be approved by the School Board before fundraising begins, and the County Council has to approve all projects for funding, no matter the funding source.
Council members have not offered suggestions of how to change the policy.
In addition to scoreboards, PTAs and booster clubs have raised money for sound systems, electronic signs and many gardens. Last month, the council approved Wootton High School's request to spend $1.1 million on new turf fields, and last year, Clarksburg High School's booster club spent $30,000 on baseball dugouts.
"It gives you the opportunity for different communities to do what they would like to do for their school," Barclay said. "The issue is making sure that it doesn't give a school a particular advantage."
He would not say whether the policy needs to change.
County Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, whose son plays football at Montgomery Blair High School, suggested PTAs could be required to give a small portion of the funds they raise to schools without similar resources. He pointed to Wheaton High School, where football spectators have to keep score in their heads since there is no scoreboard.
But the improvements that parent groups pay for have no impact on the quality of a school's instruction, said Kristin Trible, vice president of the PTA at Damascus High School.
"When we're talking about minor -- minor -- capital improvements such as a scoreboard, if the community can come together and raise money to support a community school, it seems like a valid thing to do," she said.