By Andie Mills

Gone are the days of simple bake sales and car washes. Today’s students (parents) sell beer, fireworks and scrip, host car shows and jog-a-thons, golf tournaments and galas to help mitigate the costs of school activities and provide updated classroom technology. 

Booster clubs seek sponsors and matching dollars. Alumni are tapped for subsidies. Teachers post gofundme requests for lab supplies, and send out lists of items needed for back-to-school. Philanthropic groups pony up funds for teacher projects, playground equipment and libraries. Schools host “beautification days” where students, organizations and parents are tapped to clean the grounds, do landscaping and make repairs. Dads’ clubs install coat hooks, provide funds and install tech equipment. Requests for funds for field trips, science projects, AP tests, books and banquets continue through graduation robes.   

Homeowners help fund public schools. Out of every property tax dollar, the OC Treasurer estimates that 62 cents is allocated to schools. Additionally, local property taxes include the new Orange Unified School District Measure S funding at a rate of .02288 percent. Residences in the Rancho Santiago Community College District are taxed at a .02818 rate. That computes to roughly 67 cents per property tax dollar in support of schools. In the Tustin Unified School District, bonds from 2002, 2008 and 2012 add on an additional .01842, .02969 and .01565, for a total tab of .06376 more per $1.

Go, fight, fundraise!
Parent involvement and support is crucial, despite tax subsidies. In addition to general funding to parent-teacher groups for elementary programs such as ArtMasters, and high school assemblies and activities, parent groups must step up. Dances and proms can run into the hundreds of dollars, more than many families can afford. Donations are requested from parents: per student, per activity. Donations must be voluntary only, not “pay to play.” Schools districts state that, “No students will be barred from participating in an activity or negatively impacted because of a failure to donate money to the program.” 

And, said one booster treasurer, “we find that only about 75 percent of the kids contribute.” Programs have to then be modified, “wants” versus “needs” determined. Students may play with older equipment, lose the opportunity to compete at a higher level, or attend more advanced competitions. Program directors have to curtail travel, forfeit new uniforms and equipment – all difficult when trying to compete against more affluent schools or club teams. “We are lucky,” said one parent, “if we can buy a few new balls each year.”

The tab? Foothill tennis or soccer may be $500, plus transportation costs. (And the players return their uniforms each year.) Football at ElMo, $400; $450 for volleyball. Swim at Villa Park, $295; water polo, $350; band, $300. Water polo at Foothill offers options, from $490 to $1,000, plus transportation fees. Parents report spending $1,200, and up, for football or cheer at VPHS.

Parents also help the bottom line by purchasing team apparel and accessories, signage or name plaques at the pool, gym or on fences. Coaches, advisors and parent leaders are tasked with creative fundraising to make up the difference – which may include caroling, poinsettias, mattresses, donuts, restaurant dinner nights, pancake and spaghetti dinners.

Underwriters assist with bigger projects such as new safety helmets, or tennis court resurfacing. Canyon High School Foundation raised $95,000 in 95 days, for a total of $300,000, to update the gym. El Modena Foundation purchased a new speaker system for use at the school. Orange High’s Director of Choral Music Mike Short is spearheading a community fundraising effort (GOCAT) to build a performing arts facility for OUSD schools and local arts programs.

More schools are establishing foundations to update technology, refurbish facilities and support new programs.  

Everyone agrees that students should have the most up-to-date technology, learning and athletic opportunities. But what is the bottom line?  Are continual fundraising efforts providing real value?

March 2020


The cost of education is higher than you think