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Reason for caution on school crowdfunding [Editorial]

Reason for caution on school crowdfunding [Editorial]
Do we need to resort to traditional begging? (Chelsea Carr/for The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Too often, Harford County Public Schools leadership is so overly cautious that it gets to the point where it's no longer prudent.

Whether that's out of fear or something else equally paralyzing, the public school system would, at times, be better off if its leaders didn't operate out of such an aversion to risk.

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Last week's steadfast rejection of allowing teachers to use online crowd funding websites to raise money to buy supplies for their classrooms and students wasn't one of those times.

Everyone who knows a Harford County Public Schools teacher, knows a teacher who at one time or another, if not frequently, has spent their money on classrooms and their students. That's indisputable.

They do so out of the genuine caring they have for the kids they're teaching. Some teachers can afford to spend the money more than others can. Some of the money they spend gets reimbursed by Parent-Teacher Organizations, some doesn't.

And all the money teachers can afford to spend on their students, unfortunately, can't help some of those kids. Thankfully, that doesn't keep teachers from trying, just the same.

It's wise to not allow teachers and others in the school system to enter the darkness that the World Wide Web can be in search of donations.

"We don't allow kids to go to school without what they need, ad our principals are very, very attentive to that," Superintendent Barbara Canavan said at least week's school board meeting.

That proclamation may or may not withstand closer scrutiny, but other things she said about why she is opposed to crowd funding certainly will.

Canavan's concerns include the lack of accountability as the money goes straight to teachers from the funding source and the lack of oversight of whether the materials purchased are appropriate expenditures and that they would be approved curriculum.

Ryan Burbey, the activist head of the union school system's teachers, brought the issue before the school boad.

The lack of money for classroom supplies, especially for individual students "is not necessarily the fault of the system, but there's no way to fill all the holes, and this, if properly restricted, guided, governed, is one of those ways you can fill the holes, Burbey said of using crowdfunding sources.

The superintendent was correct to object and to refuse to change her mind.

Raising money through the solicitation of donations is a slippery slope for everyone, from politicians, who don't always care about how they're perceived, to charitable organizations, who always care.

The school system has existing partnerships, Canavan said, including with the Aberdeen Police Department and with the Harford County Education Foundation, among others. The foundation holds an annual stuff a bus with school supplies effort and the Aberdeen Police holds its PACK (Police Assisting Community Kids) effort.

There are others, too. Is it enough? Of course, it's not. Would the additional money from crowdfunding campaigns be helpful? Of course, it would.

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This isn't about the money. Every person or organization feels they could always use more, Harford County Public Schools included.

This is about the cost of that money. Where's it coming from? Who's behind it? Why are they giving it away?

There's no such thing as a free lunch, even when it appears there might be. The big question is what's the risk to the safety and well being not only of the students, but also to Harford County Public Schools as a whole?

It's probably, not much. But for a school system that doesn't like to take chances, there's no compelling reason to take this one.

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