Non-academic inequities that exist between Montgomery schools because of large, private donations have reached a point where both the Montgomery County Board of Education and the Montgomery County Council are concerned.
In richer areas of the county, parents in booster clubs can raise $100,000 annually for items such as electronic scoreboards, when other booster clubs struggle to raise $10,000.
The County Council’s Education Committee sent a letter March 20 to school board President Christopher S. Barclay stating its concern about the inequities, and asking the board to explain its current policies for accepting the donations.
The school board should “evaluate whether the intent of the policy has kept pace with the rapidly changing socio-economic environment of Montgomery County,” council members Valerie Ervin, Philip Andrews and Craig Rice wrote.
The council may not realize that the school board’s policy committee is already in the process of reviewing one of its policies on this topic, said Patricia B. O’Neill, policy committee chair.
The policy requires school parent groups and foundations to get the board’s approval before raising money for capital projects over $50,000, such as the scoreboards. All projects approved by the board must then be appropriated by the County Council.
The policy for smaller donations was reviewed and updated in September. Those do not have to be approved, but there are restrictions on what groups can raise money for. For example, groups cannot pay for staffing during school hours.
The committee obtained information from staff about different projects that have been requested and approved by schools in the last 18 months, and reviewed the information at a January meeting. At that meeting, O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda requested that the information be sent to the full board. The committee plans to revisit the issue at is next meeting, May 10, O’Neill said.
The County Council wants its own meeting to discuss the issue. O’Neill said it is up to the school board, not the County Council, to make decisions on school policies.
Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park said Thursday he does not see an issue with the school board’s current policies, and he has not heard from the community that they are concerned, either.
He pointed out that the capital projects do not give an academic advantage.
Barclay said he understands that different school communities are able to raise more funding than others.
“We will continue to work on how to support schools that may not have the tremendous amount of outside resources to call upon,” he said.
Some schools in Montgomery have more than 85 percent low-income students, while others have less than 5 percent.