People ask me all the time if Mercer Island is very different from Connecticut. In a word, well, yes. Very. And here’s one thing in particular that stands out: here we are asked and expected to give substantially to.
I completely understand the ask when it comes from an independent school, which doesn’t have government funding, but I was taken aback when school started up in September and the PTA immediately asked us to donate $360 per child. I didn’t mind, and was happy to do it. And compared to a private school, that’s a door-busting steal. But I’ve never heard of a school system where this is done. What if, I wondered, you really can’t afford it? And why don’t our taxes cover the costs of educating Mercer Island students?
In our last public school, any and all types of requests for money were heavily regulated. Room parents, for instance, could only gently suggest that each family donate $5 per teacher per event into the pot. We could not ask for more. We could not pester people who forgot to chip in. We definitely could not ask for upwards of $400.
Here on the island, a little fundraising arm-twisting has been known to happen. A friend of mine decided not to contribute the requested donation but paid her annual PTA dues. A PTA board member then returned my friend’s $20 check, explaining that they were sure my friend had forgotten to include her $360 contribution. Ouch.
I’ve witnessed some heated debate over the policy. One father I know was outraged that he was asked, given the amount of property tax he pays. And I’ve heard other homeowners complain that their taxes are footing the bill for the schools while renters’ kids are able to attend for free.
(For the record, as a renter, I’d like to point out that the apartment buildings do pay a substantial property tax to the city, and I’m certain that our monthly rent is what covers that. So renters are paying into the school system, just as homeowners are.)
After we sent in our September check, I felt great about it. I had no idea, though, that it was just the beginning. The came along not too many weeks later. Then there’s the this spring and Bridge the Gap a month after that. Of course we want to pull our weight, but I’m starting to get a moderate case of Fundraising Fatigue.
Then again, we love our school, and our daughter’s teacher. She’s one of those rare educators who -- as my son likes to say -- really loves her job teaching kids. The quality of our teachers and curriculum is on par with most private schools -- which can cost upwards of $20,000. Maybe all this badgering for donations is exactly why these Mercer Island schools are so impressive and effective.
So, where do I send my next check?