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Education

Lupe Leon and the Lineweaver Lions: Educational Fundraising is Elementary

By Monica Friedman July 7, 2011

Education Fund Raising and Making Money for Public Schools

Arizona has long lagged in educational funding: typically, the state ranks forty-eighth among American states, with property taxes paying an unusually small percentage of the total, and a greater emphasis on sales and income taxes. An aging and often conservative population does not prioritize school funding and often votes down ballot initiatives designed to bail out financially struggling systems. Parents who care about their children’s education soon learn that it’s up to them to make their local schools great.

Lupe Leon is one such parent. Three years ago, she joined the PTA at Lineweaver Elementary, home of the Lineweaver Lions, understanding the importance of being involved in her child’s school and committed to helping out and volunteering whenever possible. With “a passion for helping others,” Leon felt that PTA involvement “would be a great way to support not only the school my children attend but their teachers and administrators as well.”

Today, her support is a huge element in Lineweaver’s success. Not only was she elected PTA president by her fellow parents, she was hired to serve as the school’s Community Representative and also works as Cafeteria Monitor, as well as with the before and after school program, affectionately known as Cub Club.

Responsible for nearly all the fundraising activities that go on at Lineweaver, Leon has her work cut out for her, to the tune of $50,000. That’s the amount she’s committed to raising for the 2010-11 school year. How bad is the shortfall? For the last two years, the PTA has committed to purchasing the school’s paper, pencils, and toilet paper. The school relies on extensive fundraising efforts to fund full-day kindergarten and its spectacular arts program (OMA). The PTA even had to raise the funds for the Cub Club’s license.

Tax Credit Donations and direct donations provide important support. Traditionally, students and parents look forward to seven annual fundraising activities (multiple skate nights, cookie dough fundraiser, original artwork fundraiser, walk-a-thon, spell-a-thon, carnival, and Scholastic book fair) with a new activity, TGIF family dinner night, added this year. Leon divides them into two categories. For corporate activities, such as the skate nights at a local rink, she uses a different metric to measure success. “The thing with corporate fundraisers,” she explains, “is that we only get a certain percentage of the earnings.” Skate nights, for instance, “only raise money if we get more than 60 people.” Rather than worry about money, she sees them as “community building fundraisers. We don’t expect to make a whole lot of money, what we want is for families to come together outside of school and build friendships.”

Homegrown fundraisers, like the walk-a-thon and spell-a-thon, cost very little to stage, and allow the school to keep one hundred percent of the profits. Other activities, such as selling pizza and soda at evening events, usually break even, but don’t add additional revenue to the school’s coffers. Leon explains, “We do those just so families can come out and enjoy an evening with family and not have to worry about dinner.”

She defines success a little bit differently than some fundraisers. The dollar amount is unimportant: “Like I tell my kids, $20 is $20 more than we would have had.” In her role as Community Representative, she’s equally interested in ensuring that the kids have fun, that families come together, and that the products, such as the extremely popular cookie dough sold each year, are enjoyable. The book fair helps get kids excited about reading, and helps “raise money for our library, which is always in need of upgrading books, or just getting books that kids like, or replacing ones that have been worn out.”

An extensive virtual network “plays a big role” in keeping the lines of communication open. Gone are the days when notices for parents disappeared in the black hole of a messy backpack. Everything is available “via email and our Lineweaver Parent Facebook page,” and, since “Most of our PTA board is on Facebook…we update things constantly.” The PTA also maintains its own email address “where families and friends…email questions and get information.” They’re even “in the process of developing a PTA website.” Communication is key is keeping families and supporters aware of the school’s needs and upcoming activities.

Once you start working as an educational fundraiser, one thing you’ll never lack, it seems, is motivation. Much depends on the success of Leon’s work and she’s well aware of how much rides on raising enough cash to provide students with the basics. “If PTA falls short on fundraising, it affects the whole school,” she says. “It means we cannot help with major things like technology or supplies. Which are two major necessities at our school.”