School Budget, Fundraisers and So Much WASTE!!!

Updated on October 28, 2013
S.M. asks from Elcho, WI
26 answers

This totally drives me crazy and I wonder if other schools do this too. This is half questions and half rant. I understand that schools need to do fundraiser occasionally for one reason or another which often drives me nuts, gets the kids all excited that they CAN win this great prize if they sell enough, with the exception of close family, most families have their own kids school and or scout fundraisers so it makes it hard for them to sell.

On another note my kids schools seem to wast a lot of money by using disposable styrofoam plates and plastic throw away silverware. It irks me cuz with the cost of having to buy 10 months worth of these disposable dishes it's money they could use somewhere else in the budget instead of so many fundraisers every year.

Not only is it being wasteful of money but all that styrofoam and plastic being thrown away by 600-700 school lunches every day isn't good on the environment either.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

For just a moment consider the wages and benefits/retirement they'd have to pay the 2-3 people to wash those dishes and you'll see they're actually saving money. The school utilities would more than double with the hot water, sewage costs, water, and cleaning supplies.

Ask them how much they save by using disposable options .

17 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

My kids' school doesn't do "sales" type fundraisers.
Because, yes, too much waste and labor and whatnot.
They do straight up donations. Which is done at ONE time per year.
Or fun runs around the school and people "sponsor" their kid with whatever donation they want.
Also community companies also sponsor.
And ALL donations/monies, go DIRECTLY to the school for its programs and school needs and the school library.
And lots of the parent's employers ALSO give donations as community Sponsors.
MUCH easier this way. And efficient. AND very effective.
My kids' school has raised, TONS this way.
And all without selling anything.

This is for a public school. AND all that is donated, also goes towards even the P.E. Teacher and Art Teacher salaries. Because without the annual school fundraiser, there would be NO budget, for an Art Teacher or P.E. Teacher, at my kids' school.
AND they get upgraded computers and MUCH more, this way.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Erie on

The only ones we participate in are the ones that also benefit a local business. Sub and pepperoni ball sales are very popular around here, for instance.

I will never pay $20-25 for a candle. No way, no how.

As far as the lunches go, I wonder if it actually costs them less to use the styrofoam than to hire a dishwasher and pay their salary as well as the soap and water and disinfectant. That would make sense as to WHY they are using the throw-away stuff, but it might be worth it to do some research and see if it would be cost effective to switch to recyclable materials.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Cleveland on

I don't mean this snarky but have you thought about sitting in on school board meetings to learn a little bit more about how the school functions and why they use Styrofoam.

For that matter sitting in on the PTO I am not in charge of anything but I go and listen, it has brought me a better understanding of what is driving the fundraisers and how much we get for one fundraiser vs how much profit for another but also how much hassel one is over another.

so maybe go and see if it answers some of your questions and then if you still have a rant you could choose to get involved at what ever level works for you.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

Our school uses trays and real silverware. We also have cooks that actually cook in the kitchen and make truly good lunches.

Next week marks the end of my term as fundraising chair for our school's PTO. Without our fundraiser, the school would not have an after-school tutor, would not have educational assemblies, playground equipment and structures, field trips, less classroom supplies, no lamination capabilities, no safety cadet program, childcare during conferences...the list goes on. The problem is, even though we publicize what we do and where the money goes, no one cares or notices until it goes away.

The PTO works to provide money for those things because there are no funds coming from the state for them. Our budget is separate from the school's.

Let me tell you, our entire PTO board would LOVE to not have a sales fundraiser. But when we tried to skip it and simply ask for cash donations, only make a couple hundred dollars with less than 1% participation. When we have a fundraiser catalog of random nonsense and give prizes, the we make thousands of dollars with 30%+ participation.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Both issues are excellent ones to raise with the school, especially if you have the time and energy to research alternatives. As a PTA board member, I can assure you that anyone who has an interest in fundraising is welcome with open arms. My PTA is always looking for good ideas, and when given a choice, we forego the "prizes" associated with fundraising and can sometimes negotiate to get what the company would have spent in prizes as a credit to our account to increase the amount of cash we raise. If other parents find the prizes distasteful, bring it up at the next PTA meeting and see if they will consider eliminating the prize incentives for the next fundraiser. Your school may be open to that, or they may have already found that the "prizes" actually do drive participation and the fundraisers are less successful without them.

As for the disposable food items...there most likely has been a cost-benefit analysis done that proves that the cost of the disposable trays and utensils is less than the cost of buying, storing and washing durable dishware. The environmental impact is a valid point - perhaps you could find out if the items they are using are made of recycled material and/or are recyclable. If they are not, perhaps you could research alternatives, get ideas on the cost difference vs what they're using now, research how feasible it would be to recycle these items, and present that to your school council for consideration.

FWIW, I highly doubt that the cost of the cafeteria items affects the fundraising. Cafeteria costs would come under the main school budget while additional fundraising is to cover all of those "nice to have" items like enrichment, school social functions, and non-core programs that the school district's budget is not required to cover. Additionally, the food service administration is more often than not outsourced to a 3rd-party vendor and the costs of the program tend to be covered under state and federal subsidies plus the revenue from kids who purchase lunches. decisions are spearheaded by passionate parents who have the time and energy to effect change. Venting and complaining don't do anything...talking to people and putting your time on the line to do some research and legwork make change. Passionate parents in my town have raised more than $1M over 20 years for technology, have overhauled the school lunch program, overhauled a library on a shoe string budget, implemented recycling programs, built a school garden, started robotics programs & an elementary school math club, etc. If this lights a fire in you, be one of those parents who brings about change.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Others have covered cost issues pretty well below. I just want to add this: if you are really concerned about the environment, go to your PTA/PTO and volunteer to start a recycling program at lunch. I'm sure that if you are willing to put some effort into getting it off of the ground, they would probably love to do it. It is your school, don't just complain when there is something that bothers you - get involved and do something about it!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

You'd be shocked at how much money is really going into a school, and how much it costs to run even just a small elementary. The initial money comes from federal and state government, and out of that, everything must be paid- salaries, building maintainance, supplies, and then that's it. There's no money coming from anywhere for extras. UNLESS it comes from fundraisersby the PTA, Boosters , Foundation, or whatever other parent group may exist to serve and help the school. SO many programs are funded through PTA, or items purchased, or events planned for the kids... fundraising is essential in schools. I don't know if you've heard but not much money is going into education these days. Schools are operating on a shoestring budget. Did you get new grass on the field or a new slide at the elementary school? You can probably thank the PTA and their tireless fundraising. There was no money in the budget for that I can guarantee.

Also, I wouldn't assume that the school district hasn't carefully considered the cost of the material they serve lunch on. As I said, Schools are on a shoestring budget and practically every detail is evaluated and researched to maximize cost-effectiveness. Down to what kind of paper to buy and how many copies are allowed per staffmember. I am sure the sporks are rationed as thoughtfully.

So, on the one hand, I am saying tha the overall costs of running a school include things you wouldn't even think of, and Styrofoam trays are the least of the worries. On the other hand I am saying that because education funding is so weak these days, they've probably already worried about them. Which is sad.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Have you actually looked at your school's budget or the total budget for the school district? Ever attend a school board meeting? If no, then you should. And as others have pointed out, with reusable plates, trays and utensils comes all sorts of hidden costs that you have not considered. If your school has no recycle program, maybe you should start one. Since you seem to be concerned about styrofoam and plastic filling landfills.

I understand how frustrating it is to be asked to participate in fundraisers or donate to the school after you you've already paid your dues. I really do, but I also think you should be investigating where the extra money goes if you don't know already. And if you don't want to donate, then don't. Don't feel bad about it either. It's your choice.

Our schools do not have fundraisers for their own benefit (they do have them for charities) Our HSO (Home & School Org) does the fundraising for the schools. As an officer and volunteer in our HSO, may I suggest that you sit in on a few meetings and review their budgets to see exactly where the money goes. If you feel the money goes towards worthwhile projects or things, great. If not, join them and make the changes you would like to see.

Bottom line, get involved. It's easy to sit back and criticize. It's harder to actively bring about changes that you want.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

There are a lot of costs that schools just ignore because no one is interested enough to deal with them. And UNIONS have influenced law makers to raise the wages of school personnel so you can't hire any one for minimum wage any more. How smart do you have to be to put a tray in the dishwasher?

When I went to school, there were the teachers, the principal and vice principal, their ONE secretary (they shared) and the janitors. The janitors were one man and a part time helper. Today there are often as may non-teachers as teachers. Schools are bloated with bureaucracy. And we were bussed to the closest school. If we lived less than two miles from the school, we walked to and from school. I walked to school, but if I had lived on the next block farther from school, I could have ridden the bus.

If schools were able to be neighborhood schools there wouldn't be any financial problems at school. If we had schools with just teaching staff, we could have music and art in school. And the teacher could have the schools supply pencils and paper.

Good luck to you and yours.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Dear Stay at Mom M,

I agree with Gamma M; have you stop to consider how much it would cost to pay whoever would be washing these dishes and the cost of soap and water and the reprecussions of theses costs (aka where are they getting the $$ from? yes, higher property taxes....and if you rent, guess who's paying your landlord's taxes?)

But yes, I agree the fundraisers can be somewhat annoying, particularly when they all come at the same time..

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Sounds like you should sign up for the finance/fundraising committee at school. That's where these decisions are made and changes happen. If you want your voice heard then get in there and do it!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I don't know about yours school, but ours does use the paper products because their school kitchen is so small, they don't have the room to process/clean all of the trays, etc. The school was built in 1920s or earlier, and the kitchen is tiny.

Do get involved if you aren't already. Go to the meetings. One of our school's best fundraisers is selling Scrip, which is a program that allows parents to purchase gift cards to larger businesses (Kroeger markets, Michael's craft stores, Starbucks,, etc etc.) for the actual value marked on the card and a percentage of each card purchased from the school goes to the school. This is our favorite way to help out the school. Think about it-- everyone buys groceries, needs gift cards for presents, goes out for coffee every so often... We can then spend $100 on a grocery card each week or so and know that $4 or $6 goes to the school at no extra cost to us.

Ultimately, the best way to make changes is get in there, hang around long enough to learn the ropes and get involved from there.

PS: our school has several fundraisers each year, from selling Chinook Books (like an Entertainment Book) to gift wrap to a Foundation drive (the money from which is shared with other schools who are far more needy than ours) and a school auction, a 'dining night out' where the business gives 20% of profits for the evening back to the school, plus loads of food/clothing drives. It is a LOT, and we just give what we can, when we can. The scrip, though, is still the best fundraiser and goes year-long.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I understand that fundraiser seem like they are going on all the time. This is the first year we have not been actively fundraising because my daughter gradated this past June.

There are many factors to consider with fundraising and the purpose of the fundraisers. Our elementary schools do a lot of fundraising and a MAJOR portion of the funds are used for the children for field trips, bring in special people for assemblies, fund some things in the school that the district does not fund. The list is endless.

A main way to get "in the know" is to volunteer and get involved. When you are involved with the PTA/PTO booster clubs, etc you will know why you are fundraising and where the funds go. These organizations are also closely monitored by the IRS as well. I have been in several organizations which deal with upwards of $250,000 for the Senior High School level. Our money was used to fund scholarships for students entering college, homecoming festivities, prom festivities, after prom festivities and after graduation festivities.

If you volunteer your time, you will how much the fundraising is needed and be privy to the budgets and where the monies are going.

As for the Styrofoam and plastic... really? Look at it this way... it is cheaper for many school to have the disposable products. By using these, they don't have to hire extra people in the cafeteria, cut expenses of the dishwashing (hot water, dryers) which adds up the water and electricity bills. Some schools don't have the extra room for the washing lines to make sure everything is sanitized.

Our elementary schools do use disposable products. They also have a staff member on hand when children are released from lunch manning 3 different types of recycling bins. They do collect the styrofoam trays as well.

The bet way for you to get a good understanding of why and how things are done is to get involved with your school. The same goes if you want some sort of change.

Along with fundraising, the schools here incorporate drives for the children to participate in so they are helping the community.. They have yearly canned food drives, coat drives, shoe drives and they just wrapped up a new drive of hygiene products.

You don't have to be overly active with the organizations. You can put in what available time you have and still make a difference.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

I also hate fundraising! We live in a community with 16 public elementary schools, 4 public middle schools, 3 public high schools, a private high school, and close to a dozen private elementary/middle schools. Not to mention who knows how many preschools, youth sports teams, church youth groups, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, etc. Someone is always trying to sell me something. A couple of weeks ago our staff lounge had four different fund raising sales sitting on the counter from coworkers' kids. And my kid's wasn't one of them.

What kids do for fundraising for the most part is to support the classrooms/students. Our PTSA organizes most of our fundraising. It is used to pay for things like class parties, field trips, assemblies, books for kids, etc. Our PTSA just finished a huge fundraising blitz that paid for new playground equipment.

One thing that most people don't understand about school funding is that money comes in from different sources (property tax, state money, federal money, Safe School grants, etc.). Most of that money has to be fed into certain accounts. Money in each account can only be used for specific things. The money that pays for lunchrooms comes in from a financing source that dictates where and how that money must be used.

I don't know if this is true for your school, but I taught in a district where schools were not built with fully equipped kitchens. Food was prepared at a central location and trucked to each building. The kitchens didn't even have commercial grade dishrooms. Everything was disposable. A waste, yes, but the only option thanks to how the kitchens were built.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I was delighted to learn that my grandson's elementary does ONE fundraiser each school year, a jog-a-thon. Kids and their parents are urged to let extended family, friends and neighbors know. It's just a lump donation, not a per-lap, so there are no winners or losers; kids just do as many laps as they can complete in half an hour (running, walking or wheelchair) and they have fun with fine exercise. Family and neighbors can come and cheer them on. Each grade level gets its own half-hour on jog-a-thon day. It's a lovely way to raise money for extras.

If he were being asked to sell stuff, I would be un-delighted. For all the negative reasons mentioned by other moms.

And I'm with you on all that lunchroom waste. I would call the school and ask whether those items are produced to be recycled (some are), and whether the school does, indeed, recycle them. However, there could be a (sad) cost-benefit calculation here. Lunch dishes would have to be washed and sterilized properly. That equipment can be expensive, as is hot water.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I did a little happy dance when DD's school went to direct donations. No stupid profit sharing. No annoying prizes my kids are clearly not going to win.They clearly laid out their budget and what they needed to get there. The PTA fundraises for field trips, special events, that sort of thing. They don't buy plates. Our school does use disposables, but they have gone to a lot of products they can compost or recycle. Breakfast is served in homeroom and every homeroom has 3 bins in the hall to parcel out the different things the kids need to get rid of.

ETA: The school can also sign up their Target, Safeway and Giant bonus cards so that every time people shop, money goes to the school. And if they do not already collect Box Tops or Labels for Education, then you could suggest that. I also buy books from Scholastic so her teachers get books for their classrooms.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

I agree with JB - if you feel passionately about it get involved and make your voice heard.

The Wall St. Journal ran an article last Wednesday called "It's Lunch, Not a Final Exam" talking about the difficulties for parents of packing lunches for kids at schools with "no-waste" lunch policies (it also discussed no-nut policies). Apparently some schools have gone to this system of no plastic, etc. And parents are finding it nerve-wracking.

So, again, if you feel strongly get involved. You never know where it might lead!

Re: Fundraisers - when my kids were in school I detested them. I would rather just write a check (which is even more frustrating when you're already paying for private school like we were).

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Haven't read all of the other answers yet, but do keep in mind that the school budget and the PTA or PTO budget are completely separate entities. Also, sometimes you have the school doing fundraisers, and sometimes, it is the PTA or PTO doing them. It does often seem overwhelming, but it can be helpful to know who is doing the fundraising and for what purpose the funds will be used. Then, you can make decisions about which projects and goals are most important to you and support those that you believe in.

The school district generally provides the funds for lunches, and in some cases, depending on the need of the students, they may also get grants, subsidies, or donations from local corporations to supplement the budget.

Even if your PTA or PTO wanted to change the way lunches are served, you must realize, it may not be your call. It may be something that is decided at the district level, and even if the principal has a choice, he/she may not want to change things. Or, it simply may not be possible for a variety of reasons:

It's probably much cheaper to use disposable than to pay an employee to wash dishes. Many schools these days don't have the room to run full cafeterias, so---no room for dishwashing equipment and no room for storing all of those plates, cups, trays, and utensils. Additional sanitation standards will also be required if the school moves to reusable items.

Your best bet, before you expend a lot of time and energy, is to attend a few meetings, learn the culture of your school and PTA/PTO, and see where the greatest needs are, find out what can realistically be accomplished, and work where you can make the most difference.

Good luck!

J. F.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

oh lordy dont get me started on this of my sons grade school teachers 2nd i believe ripped my son apart for not selling enuff product and that hed have to make up the difference out of mommys front of the whole class mind you...and said shed rather scrub toilets than be teaching a bunch of lazy snot nosed spoiled brats...hmmm that might be exactly what shes doing these days..i made it clear my kids would NEVER participate in any fundraiser of any sort ever sons 31 now and still recalls that day like it was me this is just pimping the kids..good luck..

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

The only way to change things is to get involved.
Our PTO wanted to cut out the disposable lunch stuff too, but after doing a thorough cost analysis they found that disposable was actually cheaper than the cost of washing and dirty dishes, not to mention the manpower required to do it (either paid or volunteer.) There was no money without cutting more important things.
Bring all you ideas to the next school board or parents club meeting. Just make sure your facts and figures line up to meet all the guidelines (financial, health and safety, etc.) before making your presentation. You need a solid plan in place to be taken seriously.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

A wealthier elementary school where I taught Dance had a fundraiser that was super great. They had silent auctions of really good items, about 50 items were donated for the auction. It was held in the school cafeteria. No kids, just adults. Catered meals were purchased. Parents dressed up. I loved it!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

I have a lot of fundraising this year because my kids are in two different schools and they are in lots of extra curriculars. I have the school fundraiser and several parents council fundraisers for the elementary school. I have the middle school fundraiser, then I also have the choir fundraiser and the band fundraiser and the divisional choir fundraiser. I also have a boxing fundraiser. The choir and band fundraisers are the ones I need to concentrate on, because the proceeds go directly into each students fundraising accounts and help with travel expenses and such.

Our elementary school does not serve lunches, but they do emphasise sustainability. Families are strongly encouraged to send all lunches in reusable containers. We provide recycling and compost. Any trash that can not be recycled or composted is sent home with the child. I'm not sure what the middle school lunch counter does. My son brings his lunch.

If the school division was really worried about the cost of hiring someone to wash dishes, the least they could do would be to use compostable plates and cutlery. That's what our local university is using.



answers from Minneapolis on

The fundraising is voluntary. If you don't like it, don't participate.



answers from Detroit on

Our PTO raises a crazy amount of money. 20,000 to 30,000 a year. and they spend that much also.. some of the things they spend money on make sense.. assemblies for all students.. new playground equipment.. field day.. fun things that benefit all kids.. but .. they also give each kid $8 for field trips.. so I buy and entertainment book the pto makes $10 and they fund up to $8 for field trips for my kid.. seems silly to me.. I wish we sold less stuff and they didn't fund these little silly things.




answers from New York on

Fundraising... I can't stand it. JUST SAY NO!!! I thinks it's really rude to constantly sell items to the same group of people. We entrust this people to teach our kids values and all they do is teach "what's in it for me, a big prize". The only items that I will sell to family, friends.... is magazines, as it's something most of them buy anyway and they can just renew thru the fundraiser and GS cookie. Other than that I simple refuse. My kids know just to throw it in the garbage at school. I truly wish more people would do the same.

Yes, I've been a member of many parent/school organizations and I understand why the fundraising is needed. Therefore, I only support fundraisers that do not involve the direct in your face selling.... can and bottle drives, car washes, concession stands, etc.

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