The fundraising merry-go-round
Desperate to build playgrounds on barren school properties, parents are increasingly suffering from fundraising exhaustion and donor fatigue as the province still considers funding options.“I love my community and I’m committed to fundraising because I know how important a playground is for all the kids in the area, not just at the school,” said Joylynn Matheson, who sits on the playground fundraising committee for Copperfield School, a K-5 elementary in the city’s deep south.“But it’s a lot. Especially when you are working a lot of fundraisers that take up so much time, but just don’t give you a lot of bang for your buck.”While a casino can raise as much as $65,000, Matheson said schools can only organize one every two years, leaving them limited to bake sales, bottle drives or chocolate almond sales, which take hours of planning with only a few hundred dollars in return.Matheson, who’s been fundraising for Copperfield more than two years, says parents are only at the midway point of their $150,000 fundraising goal which could be matched through a government grant to meet the $300,000 cost of a basic playground.“It takes a lot of time, a lot of organizing definitely,” she says. “But playgrounds are so important. Kids these days just don’t get enough unstructured play.”Playground funding for schools has been contentious since last fall when St. Peter School in Penbrooke Meadows received $200,000 only days after media attention identified them as finalists in the Kraft Heinz Project Play Contest.While they did not win the contest, Project Play provided a national spotlight on the inner-city school’s deteriorating property and lack of basic playground equipment.Critics asked why the NDP government suddenly funded St. Peter, while parents at schools in both suburban and aging inner-city areas had been fundraising for years because of their inability to secure provincial grants.But Barb Silva, spokeswoman for Support Our Students advocacy group, said it’s outrageous parents continue to be forced to fundraise at all, particularly for basic learning resources such as books, technology and playgrounds.“It’s just assumed now that parents will always fundraise for basics. And we’ve become resigned to the fact that it’s just part of our kids’ education,” Silva said.“But the province continues to ignore this issue, because they know parents’ constant fundraising allows them to.”Silva added that as parents put in increasing amounts of time to fundraise, they are losing quality time with their own children.“All of their energy is being spent on fundraising. But parents need to be engaged in their kids’ lives, they need the time to talk with them, with their teachers, and get involved in their school activities.Since the funding injection to St. Peter School, the province has said it would roll out plans for more funding in the coming weeks, but schools are still waiting.Silva said she reached out to Education Minister David Eggen before Christmas but did not hear back for several weeks. When she did, Silva said there was essentially no new information and “it was really just a whole lot of nothing.”Eggen’s office confirmed this week the province is reviewing about 80 submissions for playground funding from across the province, but no decision has been made yet on how much may be available heading into an election year.“Our government believes playgrounds are extremely important to local communities and that is why we are funding them to make life better and more affordable for Albertans,” Eggen said in an emailed statement.Last June, the province announced $20 million in funding to ensure all newly built K-6 schools would get playgrounds. Under the program, new elementary schools were eligible for grants of $250,000 retroactive to 2014.But schools announced before then were not eligible, meaning several new suburban schools like Copperfield have not received any funding and remain without playgrounds.Silva argues that as the province heads closer to an expected spring election call, politicians need to consider a completely new funding model for schools, where funding goes to all schools equally instead of each student on a per-capita basis.“If we ensure each school has what every other school has, we won’t need to fundraise,” Silva said, adding that while the idea may require increased taxes, parent fundraising is also a personal cost.“Think of all the money parents put into school fundraisers over the 12 years their kids are in schools, and redirect that into quality education across the board.“It would mean more resources to all schools, and to all schools equally.”
Joylynn Matheson and daughter Isabella near Copperfield School. Parents have been fundraising for two years to get a playground built.
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