School rejects fundraising group’s $55,000 gift

A parent group wants to give $55,000 to a school to build a new playground. The school’s administration doesn’t want it. What gives?

The controversy at DeKalb County, Georgia’s Smokerise Elementary School highlights some of the problems attendant to the advent of school foundations—private fundraising and philanthropic organizations that are separate from the school system and PTAs.

If they can’t agree on priorities, what are school leaders and fundraisers going to do?

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

It’s not quite a fight on the playground, but a DeKalb County school and its parent-run fundraising organization are at a stalemate over building a new play area at Smoke Rise Charter Elementary.

At stake is up to $55,000 that the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation (SREF) has raised specifically for a new playground, including a major donation from a nonprofit that specializes in building them.

But school officials don’t want to use the money for a playground. They say it’s needed for technical and computer labs, among other things. They argue that because Smoke Rise is on a list of schools that will be rebuilt with SPLOST money, a new playground is a waste of money.

Foundation members said school officials demanded they turn over their funds for other uses. School officials deny that.

“We have no authority over the funding that the foundation collects,” DeKalb spokesman Walter Woods said. “But the playground is not a priority.”

SREF President Karen Weitzel, however, said that at a special meeting Monday night, Smoke Rise principal Aaron Moore and Allen Armstrong, the head of the school’s governance council, basically demanded that her group turn over the money.

“They told us it was not our business how they spent the money,” Weitzel said. “We were told that we raise the money, give it to them and not to question it. I was shocked and disagreed. We don’t blindly write checks to the governance council.”

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