AUSTIN (KXAN) — A middle school parent is raising concerns about the way his child’s school is raising money.
John Padalino says Gorzycki Middle School in southwest Austin is excluding students by charging a “cover” to get into various fundraising events being held during the school day.
“I almost feel like we’re putting toll tags on our kids, and that’s just wrong,” said Padalino.
He received a flier right before spring break about Tiger Day. It is the largest PTA fundraiser of the year. The flier say all proceeds go directly to teachers in the classroom. A $25 wristband buys a student three hours of fun, including a rock wall, henna tattoos, face and hair painting and karaoke.
“The way my son presented it to me was, ‘Well Dad, ya know if I don’t go I’m just gonna sit there left out,”‘ said Padalino.
So, Padalino paid the $25. A few weeks later, he says his son asked for another $4 to go to a special teacher volleyball and basketball game. Last week, Padalino says a talent show during the school day cost $2 to attend, but his son forgot to ask for the money.
He asked his son, “Did they let you go?”
“No, they made me sit in class with a couple other kids, and we were just really left there to read.”
Padalino says he views it as a punitive measure, but in an email response to KXAN, the district said students sitting in a classroom who do not participate in the fundraisers is not a form of discipline.
Prior to reaching out to KXAN, Padalino says he sent emails to the principal, the PTA president and the school district.
The principal and PTA responded to his concerns, and told him scholarships are always available for students who cannot afford to go, and the reason some of the fundraisers are held during the school day is because the campus wants to be inclusive, and have learned fewer students participate in activities after hours.
“The school is always looking for ways to raise funds that don’t require students to sell items,” AISD said in a statement. “Requiring a cover charge for some of the school events raises a significant amount of money, encourages student participation and doesn’t require students to sell items.”
Lisa Haney, president of the Gorzycki PTA, says parents who volunteer their free time to put on the fundraisers are “very dedicated to supporting all students needs” and no students are turned away.
“Our counseling department contacts each student currently enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program and provides them with a wristband free of charge,” said Haney. “They also contact students that they know have historically struggled to pay for activities and give them a wristband, no questions asked.”
Haney says Tiger Day is one of two fundraisers the PTA puts on during the school year which raises money to support all of the programs provided by the teaching staff, and without the fundraiser, many teams would not be able to afford supplies needed for every day learning activities.
Several parents with the PTA reached out to KXAN and said the larger issue is the reasoning behind why schools have to depend on so many donated dollars.
“The growing recapture liability is putting pressure on the district’s budget and schools are having to find creative ways to meet basic needs with their PTAs,” said AISD in a statement. “We are losing nearly $30 million in revenue this year while costs are going up and we are sending nearly a billion to the state in recapture over the next two years. And with no significant changes to school finance coming out of the legislature, that burden is growing, especially when there are funded mandates. Also, federal funds are at risk, which is putting even more pressure on schools to fill gaps in the budget.”
Padalino acknowledges Texas needs to do a better job funding schools, and says he is not against schools turning to fundraisers to fill in the gaps.
“There’s ways to do it, but during the school day while we’re using school fund money to pay for the school, and operate the school, every kid should be able to go to any school-wide event they are hosting,” said Padalino.
Padalino says he has a meeting set up with the principal and a district administrator over middle schools on June 6, and he will be bringing another fundraising idea to the table.