The benefits of extracurricular activities on community and student engagement, student achievement and future success have been widely researched. “Extracurricular activities are one of the best investments that a school can make to help promote achievement, student engagement, and the attitudes and habits that lead to college aspirations and ultimate success,” noted an article, “Extracurricular Activities and Student Achievement: Everyone Gains,” published by Education Partnerships, Inc.
For most parents, these research results aren’t surprising. A parent need only sit in the bleachers and see the elation of students after a winning game or observe the camaraderie after an athletic or performing arts practice to feel thankful that their child is engaged and a part of the school community in a healthy and productive way. There is little that inspires a sense of community pride more than the thundering beat of the drumline, the blaring trumpets, the soft resonance of the reeds and the bright flash of the flags as the band marches in synchronicity across the football field.
Funding for Extracurricular Activities Despite
the fact that extracurricular activities indisputably enhance the educational experience, these activities are outside the state mandate to provide a thorough and efficient education. Many school boards are forced to examine extracurricular activities when making difficult budget decisions. In most schools, about 80 percent of the budget is dedicated to staff salaries and benefits and it can be difficult to justify funding an extracurricular activity at the expense of resources necessary for the academic curriculum.
Districts benefit when extracurricular activities inspire parents and community members to participate in school-connected organizations that help support these vital activities. These groups support the school staff by providing the hands-on volunteer workforce necessary for the planning, funding and operation of extracurricular activities.
Recognizing that budgetary restraints can limit a district’s ability to provide and sustain programs such as athletic teams, music groups, theatrical troupes, dance teams, debate teams, school publications and much more, NJSBA considers it a best practice for districts to take advantage of volunteer resources that support and sustain these achievement-enhancing opportunities for students. The NJSBA Critical Policy Reference Manual model policy 1230, School-Connected Organizations, states: “The board will encourage the work of general, voluntary, school‑connected organizations of parents/guardians, school staff and friends of the school in each school.”
School-connected organizations often vary in size, mission, participation and operation. These groups, both large and small, operate independently and are therefore outside district scrutiny regarding state fiscal accountability requirements for schools. Even though they are independent agents, they reflect on the school district and when operated in a questionable or fiscally irresponsible manner, they can create bad public relations and reflect poorly on the district.
Board Responsibilities for Fundraising Organizations
NJSBA fields many policy inquires related to the operation of school-connected organizations. Often, sample policies and procedures are requested when there is a problem and the school board wants to reign in or control these groups. Most concerns center on fundraising. The goal is often to protect the students and the community from being burdened by multiple fundraisers and ensuring an accurate accounting of the funds raised.
The reality is that the board does not control what these independent groups do. School board insurance carriers indemnify the board against being implicated when these groups are mismanaged, but that does not save the public favor lost by the board when parents and students become the victim of sloppy or illegal practices.
On the one hand, booster clubs support activities such as teams or the band, foster investment and involvement in the educational program, and often supply vital funding resources that allow the activity to continue. On the other hand, the board has an obligation to protect the public trust. Policy may be developed to encourage the responsible operation of school connected-organizations.
The board may establish a policy and application procedures to recognize larger groups that organize programs and fundraisers supporting district-wide and school-wide initiatives. These groups include the PTA, PTO and the local education foundation, but can also be activity-specific groups supporting large and expensive activities like marching band or theater productions.
The recognition of some such groups –such as the PTA – may require certification by the group’s state or national association, equal access to the group and disclosure of the organization’s structure and financial setup. Groups that operate responsibly typically have a documented leadership structure or board, documented accounting policies and procedures, and job descriptions for positions within the group.
Certain benefits can be defined for groups that meet the district’s standards and disclosure requirements. Benefits may include authorizing the group to use the district’s name in their titles or in connection with their programs, allowing free use of school facilities and providing reserved or priority placement for meetings and events on the school calendar.
Policy can also create conditions for smaller booster clubs that can be an essential element for sustaining an activity. Small groups often facilitate car pools, organize banquets, arrange group rates for personal equipment purchases, provide spirit wear, and otherwise take up collections and conduct minor fundraisers. While such groups may not meet the recognition standards of larger organizations, they may also be allowed to use school facilities and conduct fundraisers.
School-connected organizations can be required to have the approval of the board or its designee for any fundraising activities that involve the students, staff or the school facility. Once a group fundraiser is approved, assistance may be provided if appropriate, such as authorization to use the school copier, having the school office distribute an e-blast or fliers to classrooms, and the authorization to otherwise advertise the activity in the school or on school property.
School administrators and staff activity leaders should be familiar with policies guiding school-connected organizations and distribute the policies to the group leaders. Even though the board does not have direct authority over many of the activities these groups conduct, it is helpful to make groups aware that the board encourages defined best practices.
It is important to clearly communicate to staff members who lead extracurricular activities that all funds raised by staff or students as part of the activity are district funds that are subject to the state’s Accountability Regulations (Policy 5126, Student Activity Accounts). Staff members may not assume any responsibility for funds or the accounts of booster clubs or hold money for the group. Additionally, staff may not accept money or gifts that result from the efforts of the booster club without the approval of the board or the board’s designee.
Boards frequently have policy on fundraising by organizations (discretionary policy, NJSBA file code 1314). Typically, all fundraisers by school-connected organizations and outside groups that involve staff, students, school building or school property must be approved by the board or the board designee. Approval is contingent on an agreement between the organization and the board regarding how the money will be allocated. Policy can set criteria for rejecting an application when the fundraiser:
- has the primary effect of advancing the name, product, or special interest of a person, corporation, or organization;
- fails to meet district standards of accuracy and good taste;
- is of little or no educational relevance to students;
- makes unreasonable demands upon the time and energies of staff and students or upon the resources of the district;
- interrupts or interferes with the regular school program;
- involves a direct cost to the district; or
- attaches unacceptable conditions to the board’s receipt of the funds raised.
Another relevant policy is one that addresses gifts, grants and bequests (model policy, NJSBA file code 3280). This policy requires that funds, gifts and materials be accepted by the board or the superintendent. Such funds and gifts become the property of the board and the board determines what they will be allocated for.
The board does not have to accept all donations and can reject those with conditions that the board disagrees with. For example: contributions and gifts should be free from bias towards any ethnic, religious, racial or gender group, and never place an undue burden on the district’s facilities, grounds or financial resources in the present or the future. Funds that are accepted to support new program development should be evaluated for the possibility of future costs that may be required when the donated funds are expended. Also, accepting assistance and funds that create gender differences among comparable activities (like athletic teams) may be a violation of Title IX which focuses on equal opportunity.
Communication is Key
In approving fundraisers and accepting funds and gifts, it is a best practice to have input from the organization on how the money is to be used, and when feasible, direct the money toward that cause. Being responsive to the input from school-connected organizations regarding how the funds they raise are spent demonstrates that the board values their volunteer help and service.
However, it should be made clear that once the funds are accepted, they are the property of the board alone, to be directed at the discretion of the board. Caution should be exercised when redirecting funds given by school-connected organizations. When the group’s input is requested and then ignored, or the board fails to consult the group regarding a decision to redirect funds, it can lead to community resentment and discourage the group from future involvement.
When verified complaints of destructive practices and dysfunction, such as the misdirection of funds, inaccurate representation of programs and events and excessive solicitation of the community, come to the attention of the board and/or the administration, support may be provided. Board policies and regulation related to these groups and policies related to their activities may be redistributed. If a school-connected organization or booster club repeatedly becomes the subject of controversy because of dysfunctional practices, the board has the option to disassociate itself from the group. The board may notify the school community or the parents and students involved in the activity assisted by the group that the school does not endorse the group.
It can be a tightrope for a board to walk when well-meaning volunteers in school-connected organizations create community controversy with activities and practices that are in conflict with board policy. Before it becomes a “cactus wrapped in a porcupine” (as one NJSBA attorney often says), school leaders should consider reviewing their policies, creating clear guidelines and assembling information for distribution so that groups are encouraged to provide the type of assistance that fosters the board’s goals and supports student achievement.
Model policies and sample policies and procedures related to school-connected organizations are available from the NJSBA policy team and include: Policy 1230, School-Connected Organizations; Policy 1314, Fundraising by Organizations; Policy 2380, Gifts Grants and Bequests; and Policy 5141.20, Life-Threatening Allergies.