School Board Members Say Lopsided Donations Creating Inequity in the District
Donation of a Smart Board to Edison School revives talk of creating a policy to ensure all students benefit equally from the generosity of donors.
What could be the down side to a donation for education?
District 205 Foundation hosts its annual FUNraiser, Midnight Masquerade and Christmas tree sale, among other events, to pay for enhanced educational opportunities for students. Individual school PTAs work tirelessly to raise money for classroom resources. And, you never know when an individual will decide to purchase some equipment for a classroom—or even stadium lights at York High School—with an out-of-pocket donation.
But without much oversight and direction from Elmhurst District 205 School Board, these donations are creating inequity among schools, board members said Tuesday.
The discussion started when board member John McDonough pulled a routine item off the superintendent's consent agenda. Before approving the donation of a $1,300 Smart Board for Edison School, he said he was troubled by "conflicting emotions."
"We're grateful for assistance when our finances are in a situation where difficult decisions have to be made," he said. "But at the same time, we need to be aware so that we don't fall into this situation of creating disparate learning environments."
Last month, in addition to a donation of a new scoreboard for Bryan Middle School, the board approved a donation of 13 Smart Boards to Emerson School.
"The social committee got together and worked hard to do that for their school," McDonough said. "I'm amazed every time at the things this community can do.
"(But) now Edison has six Smart Boards, there are 13 at Emerson, only one at Fischer and none at Churchville, Field, Jackson, Lincoln or Madison."
He noted that the district's strategic plan promises to provide equitable space and resources at all schools, and equitable educational opportunities and access to technology for all students.
There was no dissent among board members.
"We've got to get ahead of this," Chris Blum said. "We can't have these incredible, crazy imbalances within the district."
It's a problem that has been ongoing for many years, board member Maria Hirsch said. The board needs to work with PTAs and other organizations willing to help support education, she said.
"Our job is to educate them. How can they best assist us?" she said. "(We need to) come up with a better way to do this."
Karen Stuefen said she would like the donations to be "driven by curriculum and instruction."
"Everyone who wants to help students, we need to have them understand that we drive it," she said. "We drive the best utilization for the students and the outcome of education."
It is imperative that any action not discourage donations, board member Jim Collins said.
"It should be the goal of the board not to stop any of the streams of private money from entering our schools," he said. "There are people who want to support their particular building. We should encourage that. There are people that have an interest in having light at our stadium from 5:30 in the morning until 10 at night. We should not prohibit (donations) by diverting those monies to other uses."
McDonough said he would like PTA groups and the foundation to think about this dilemma and come up with ideas on how to take advantage of the donations while benefitting the entire district.
Superintendent David Pruneau said it is an issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of policy, but it should not impact the donation to Edison.
"We're kind of using Edison as an example tonight," he said. "It's not Edison's fault. We approved Emerson just last month, now all of a sudden we're saying we're going to change the game. It's a great policy discussion the board and community need to have."
As part of that discussion, Collins suggested they look at the "use of schools as laboratories."
"What proof do we have that those Smart Boards improve the quality of education?" he said. "We don't know the impact they'll have on our district until we try them."
He referred to a comment by McDonough, who said Lincoln School has 51 iPod Touch devices.
"I think it's great Lincoln has 51 iPods," Collins said. "If Lincoln starts outperforming their previous trends in a particular area, and it turns out we can link that back to those iPods, that is tremendous. Then we can start thinking about putting iPods in all our schools."
Technology Director David Smith said the district's new Curriculum Technology Committee will begin discussions Oct. 26 about how classrooms will be equipped in the future.
"We'll be getting ahead of the game as to where we want to go," he said.
Blum suggested putting together a "wish list" for the schools. Organizations could choose things on the list to donate.
The matter will be discussed at an upcoming Board Improvement and Policy Committee meeting, then brought back to the full board for approval.
"I think this will have a big impact on the district," Pruneau said.