Raising money through online crowdfunding sites is an ideal way for teachers to find the funds to purchase classroom materials and should be restored, the head of the Harford County teachers' union says, but the schools superintendent disagrees.
"That 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," Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, said during a presentation to the school board earlier this week.
Burbey gave a presentation on two crowdfunding sites — www.adoptaclassroom.org and www.donorschoose.org — which teachers around the country have used to raise millions of dollars toward purchases of school supplies, books, even field trips, for which funds are not available through other sources in their school districts.
"I wanted you to be able to look at what the real impact of these sites could be and how they might offset some of our needs in technology and materials and provide experiences through field trips," Burbey said.
Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan told board members that the school system has existing partnerships with community organizations and businesses through which funds and supplies can be donated to individual schools.
Among the local groups that collect supplies for needy kids this time of year are the Aberdeen Police Department, which is holding its "PACK" campaign (Police Assisting Community Kids) for the second year, and the Harford County Education Foundation, which holds an annual Stuff a Bus campaign that other community organizations collect for as well.
Canavan said she and her top aides stopped teachers from using Donors Choose and AdoptAClassroom because there are no controls in place to govern how the money comes to the schools, as it goes directly from the donors to the teacher, plus there are no controls on the materials obtained and whether items such as books are aligned with the HCPS curriculum.
During the school board's meeting Monday evening, Burbey showed a short video on Donors Choose, which has garnered support of celebrities such as Stephen Colbert, comedian and host of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on CBS.
In the video, Colbert expresses his support of Donors Choose, and Burbey noted the late-night host has personally funded every request made by South Carolina teachers through the site.
The sites work the same way as other crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe. Burbey explained that a teacher can create a fundraising campaign and post it online, describing the project and the need for their students, and then members of the community can donate as much or as little as they want.
More than $2.07 million was raised through AdoptAClassroom in 2016, according to the organization's annual report, which Burbey provided — 88 percent of its expenses went toward program services, while the rest were spent on fundraising and administrative costs.
Donors Choose raised more than $100 million in 2016, according to Burbey's presentation. The organization allocates nearly 95 percent of its annual expenses for "classroom projects, materials and processing" and the rest for administrative and fundraising needs, according to its website.
Burbey said the Harford County Public Schools administration prohibited teachers from using these sites about a year ago. He expressed concerns that ban could have the greatest effect in low-income parts of thecounty where teachers have to use their own money to buy school supplies.
"This, to me, is a huge equity issue because primarily the teachers who are seeking these kinds of funds and have these gaps are [in] places where the PTAs make a lot less money and they have great needs," he said.
Canavan was not swayed by the presentation.
The superintendent said photos of students and their classrooms have been posted online without being vetted through the safety and security division, and the school system's name was placed on a donors' list without permission.
"We don't allow kids to go to school without what they need, and our principals are very, very attentive to that," Canavan said.