Making ends meet - schools’ reliance on their communitiesAugust 2015
JUDE BARBACK looks at the co-dependent relationship between schools and businesses as schools try to meet funding shortfalls and businesses strive for corporate social responsibility.
Education between the ages of five and 18 is supposedly free in New Zealand. Yet many argue that the resources provided by the state, both in terms of funding and staffing time, are insufficient to meet the costs of delivering a meaningful curriculum.
There are so many things tugging on a school’s purse strings as it strives to meet parents’ expectations – learning resources, ICT requirements, sporting tournaments, sports equipment, musical instruments, field trips, and so on. Many schools struggle to stretch their Ministry of Education operational grants as far as they would like.
In 2013, the Ministry introduced new funding guidelines that prevented schools from asking parents for money for activities considered part of the national curriculum. Donations for voluntary activities such as cultural and sporting trips can still be requested.
The guidelines were introduced with good reason: prior to their introduction there was much debate about state-funded schools asking cash-strapped parents to cough up money they didn’t have.
A New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council survey found that since the guidelines were introduced, nearly two-thirds of high schools report a reduction in school finances. It also found that curriculum-related activities like field trips, science experiments and costly courses have been removed by some schools.
Of the 54 secondary and area schools who responded, 59 per cent had removed some field trips and 68 per cent had changed to cheaper field trips. Approximately 59 per cent expected to see a negative impact on programmes like Education Outside the Classroom, Outdoor Education and food technology workshops.
The curse of a high decile rating
Decile ratings also impact upon school coffers. Schools held their collective breath as the new deciles were announced late last year. While the Ministry of Education’s 18-month transition period offered some cushioning to the change, an increase in decile rating ultimately means less funding for schools.
The resulting funding drop from Picton School’s increase from decile three to five meant its six teacher aide positions and the school’s access to the Duffy Books in Homes scheme were under threat.
Principal Alister McCosh told the Marlborough Express that school staff and the board of trustees would have to decide how the funding shortfall would be met.
“If we want to maintain the things that we’ve got we’ll have to fundraise in some form.”
Higher decile schools are particularly mindful of the need to top up their limited funding through other means. Many look to international students and community fundraising initiatives to help bridge the gap.
In a note of thanks to the Yummy Stickers promotion team for the grant for sports equipment, the sports coordinator for decile 10 Gardens School acknowledged how necessary support from outside sources is for high decile schools.
“Just wanted to pass on how much we appreciate the support you show for schools. As a decile 10 school, our budgets are very tight and we really look forward to the top up we get every year from you guys!”
A similar note from the teacher in charge of sport at decile 8 Stanmore Bay School confirmed the same.
“Any initiative that puts useful equipment in the hands of students is welcome. Free gear means that allocated funding can be spent on providing even more resources that we may not have been able to purchase otherwise.”
The Yummy Sticker promotion is a good example of how the socially responsible actions of a company can help meet a need in New Zealand schools.
The Yummy Sticker promotion – in which schools collect Yummy Stickers from fruit to receive money for sports equipment – is in its 18th year. Marketing manager Sue De Lisle said the programme was initially designed to encourage people to buy apples in the winter and ran only in terms 2 and 3. But it was also about “giving back”, she said, about encouraging kids to be healthy. In the first year they gave away $50,000 of sports gear; today they spread gear worth $200,000 between the 600 and 700 schools now taking part in the promotion.
De Lisle credits the programme’s success with its simplicity and the fact it is driven by a passion for helping kids stay healthy. Each school receives a portion of the $200,000 based on the percentage of stickers they’ve collected. It tends to work out fairly as the bigger the school, generally the more stickers collected.
The reason schools have given for not participating are that they don’t have a Pak’n Save or New World in their area, or sadly, that their families can’t afford to buy apples.
The Warehouse’s token scheme is similarly effective and simplistic. For every plastic bag purchased, a token can be placed in one of three bins for local community groups, including schools. The Warehouse then donates the proceeds of plastic bag sales to the groups according to the number of tokens.
Selwyn Park School principal Vern Stevens told the Kaipara Lifestyler that the school hoped to purchase a GoPro camera with money raised from their local Warehouse’s token scheme. Tangowahine School had earmarked the money for new technology, with the hope of realising the school’s aim of one device per child.
Warehouse Stationery’s Support Your School programme allows schools to receive points for purchases made which can then be redeemed for rewards such as Warehouse Stationery vouchers to buy things like school stationery, art supplies, furniture and computers.
Businesses like those in The Warehouse Group have found a space they can occupy that benefits schools, communities and themselves through such initiatives. A little corporate social responsibility can go a long way.
Caltex was the latest to announce a scheme along these lines. The company aims to raise $100,000 through its new Fuel Your School initiative, which will see schools receive funding towards improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities in the classroom. Every time a customer redeems their AA Smartfuel savings at Caltex service stations between 27 July and 23 August,Caltex will donate 25c to the Fuel Your School fund.
Technology and fundraising
Technology has helped fundraising take new forms, and crowdfunding sites and online fundraising communities are becoming increasingly popular. Relatively new to the Kiwi online fundraising space is Kiteflyr. Like traditional fundraising, supporters are able to make donations directly through the cause’s profit page, but there is also the opportunity to purchase deals in a similar manner to sites like GrabOne, but with a portion of the purchase price going to a cause of the purchaser’s choice.
The site also allows causes to set up fundraising events with discounted offers tailored for large groups from local venues and sell tickets through the Kiteflyr website for their profit. Kiteflyr appeals to schools as a fundraising medium, and as such there are many schools listed on the site, most requesting support for sporting endeavours. Pakuranga College, for example, is in the process of raising $10,000 for its boys’ and girls’ basketball teams to go to the national competitions.
Entertainment books have been in many schools’ fundraising calendars for much longer, having started 15 years ago in New Zealand; however, in recent years Entertainment has branched out into online memberships as well. Families can purchase a book or ‘Entertainment membership’ for around $60, giving them access to a huge range of discounts to attractions, eateries and services with 20 percent going back to the school. St Heliers School PTA and BOT member Kathy Harding says their school has raised over $2,500 through Entertainment sales over the past three years.
FundraiseOnline is another web-based initiative offering event-focused fundraising in a similar vein to sites like Givealittle as well as the opportunity for supporters to donate on a regular basis.
The Minister of Education has signalled a new funding system for schools is on the cards; however, whatever system emerges is unlikely to replace the need for schools to seek out opportunities to top up their funding. Promotions that bring money, sports gear or stationery from local businesses will always be popular with schools, provided they are easy to administer and understand.
Similarly, fundraising initiatives, both traditional and technological, will always be needed to keep up with expectations for a school experience that is rich and diverse in opportunities.
Decile ratings were introduced in 1995 and are adjusted after every census.
Schools are compared nationally and about 10 per cent put into each decile.
Decile one schools have the highest ratio of students from low socio-economic communities and decile 10 schools the lowest.
Funding is graduated across the deciles, with the most funding given to decile one schools and the least to decile 10 schools.
A school’s rating determines about a tenth of its funding.
In the last round of decile adjustments, about a third of schools had an increase in decile rating, a third stayed the same and a third had a decrease in rating.