Cape school district monitors fund raising by groups

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Cape Girardeau School District increasingly has pushed to get school parent-teacher organizations to let the central office keep track of the money they raise.

But some of the groups prefer to keep their own checking accounts and operate independently of the district, their parent leaders say.

The district has parent-teacher organizations at seven schools, including its five elementary schools.

Three of them have operated separate checking accounts, arguing that it's more convenient than going through the bureaucracy of the central office. But one of them, the Blanchard Elementary School parent-teacher organization, decided last week to move its money into a central office account.

Jerra Hutson, president of the Blanchard group, wasn't at the meeting. She believes it was more convenient for the group to keep its own checking account.

Alma Schrader Elementary School and Cape Girardeau Middle School have accounts at the district office, but keep most of their money in checking accounts that aren't supervised by the district.

Hutson said that might be an alternative for the Blanchard group, too.

"The problem with going to the central office is that you have to get approval for everything," she said.

Ultimately, Hutson said, parents would have to spend their own money for items and then be reimbursed.

The organization raises several thousand dollars annually.

When it has spent money on major equipment for the school, the district has purchased the item and then been reimbursed by the Blanchard group, Hutson said.

But groups that don't have accounts with the central office can't publicize their activities or fund-raisers to students during school hours, she said.

The high school doesn't have a parent-teacher organization, district officials said. But the high school has an All-School Booster Club which has its own board of directors and bank account. The high school marching band has its own booster club which maintains a separate account for money it raises.

Brenda McCowan, finance director of the Cape Girardeau school system, said the district's auditors have suggested that the district should keep track of the money raised by school groups.

Any school fund-raising projects first must be approved by building principals, she said.

McCowan's office keeps track of deposits and spending for about 45 organization accounts. About 35 of them are active accounts, she said. The others are used by groups that raise money only when needed for a special trip or event.

In all, she estimates that her office keeps tabs on at least $50,000 spread over various club accounts. Some raise thousands and thousands of dollars. Others raise and spend very little, McCowan said.

Most of the sports teams have fund raisers. So does Shere Khan, the percussion ensemble at Central Middle School, and other student-performing groups.

The amount of money raised and spent varies from year to year. Shere Khan is working to raise $12,000 to pay for the group's trip in November to Omaha, Neb., to perform at a national music conference. The group held a dinner and silent auction on Saturday to raise money.

Each club's money is tracked separately. "They all have their own account codes," McCowan said.

"We have one person in each building response for taking care of deposits," she said.

McCowan said she believes that putting the money under the supervision of the central office provides greater accountability.

But leaders of the parent groups at Blanchard, Alma Schrader and Central Middle School said it's more convenient to have separate checking accounts.

Hutson said central-office procedures can delay getting checks written to pay expenses. "There is a time lag," she said.

Alma Schrader's PTA has maintained two accounts for the past few years. It keeps money in its own checking account. But also deposits money in an account with the district, said Deneke Murphy, the group's president.

Murphy said the group initially put most of its money in the central-office account. "It was so inconvenient," she said.

Murphy said it would take a week or two to get a check written to pay a bill. As a result, she said, the organization now keeps much of its money in its own account where it can be more easily spent.

McCowan said the district has streamlined financial procedures in the last several years. But even now, checks aren't written overnight.

"We try to ask them to give us a week," she said.

As for the high school's booster club, it operates as a not-for-profit organization with a 15-member board of directors. Club members say that sets it apart from other school clubs.

The booster club helps support both athletic and academic projects.

Athletic director Mark Ruark said he and principal Dr. Mike Cowan first must approve any spending request before it can be brought before the booster board. The board then has to approve it before any money can be spent, Ruark said.

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