More educating, less fundraising (Editorial)

If employers are concerned about future skills shortages and the need to develop a workforce to compete in a global market, then the funding of Canadian schools should be an issue.

Whether the problem is hiring enough qualified teachers, providing basic supplies, keeping institutions clean and well-maintained or offering the full gambit of courses from physical education to music to math, school boards across the country are struggling to hold the system together. As a group, provincial governments haven’t provided the budgets necessary to get the job done. In addition to budget and program cutting, school boards have tried to be creative to get some of the cash legislatures have denied them.

That’s how soft drink and snack companies have filled schools with pop and chips, and why there’s a McDonald’s billboard at a high school in my neighbourhood. Unhealthy eating is the price Canadian kids are paying for these “creative” revenue streams.

But pushing sugar and fast food won’t pay all the bills, so schools are heavily involved in fundraising. Schools and parent associations aren’t strangers to fundraising, it’s just that in the past the money went to things like sending a class on an excursion or helping poor children in Central America. But today field trips and charity take a back seat to essentials like books or lunch-time supervisors. So be prepared to dip into your pockets if you expect paper for kids to write on or an adult to keep the bullies in check.

What does all this fundraising look like on the front line? There’s magazine subscription drives, book purchasing offers, chocolate bar sales, raffles, dinners, fairs. All of these events need organization and cause paperwork — and lots of it — for school administrators and teachers. Instead of working on teaching plans — or heaven forbid helping students — teachers are hunkered down at their desks sorting forms, ordering products, organizing incoming merchandise, tracking donation slips. Principals are boning up on their fundraising skills instead of program development.

So, to ask an in vogue HR/business question, what’s the core competency here? Have we been foolishly sending wannabe educators to teachers’ colleges, when they should be going into PR and marketing to learn about fundraising?

Unless business can get governments to wake up to the workforce problems stemming from inadequate education funding, then the core competency question should be opened to review. To apply another popular business term, “outsourcing,” it’s time for school to get out of the fundraising racket and hand it over to real pros.

School fundraising seems ripe for an outlandish step. How about setting up provincial agencies to co-ordinate, plan and run the fundraising duties of all school boards in each province. (I’d suggest a national agency, but this needs to be done soon, with little time for the decades bickering about turf that characterizes federal-provincial negotiations.)

One professional agency can take the administrative load and burden of fundraising from local schools, and also ensure that schools in poorer neighbourhoods can provide the same standards of education that those in better-off communities can afford. If premiers won’t properly fund the system, then let’s call in some pros to get the job done and let teachers focus on preparing the next generation of workers.

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