NEWBURYPORT — The School Committee is looking to clarify district fundraising policies after parents discovered a for-profit company will receive close to half of the money raised at the Boosterthon Fun Run last week.

Each year, families pledge a certain amount of money for each lap students run, up to 35 laps.

The latest Fun Run took place Thursday and Friday, raising $46,100 for the schools.

This is the third year that families with children at Francis T. Bresnahan Elementary School participated and the first year for families from Edward G. Molin Upper Elementary School. 

The program is organized by the Newburyport Parent Teacher Organization, a volunteer group made up of parents and teachers with children at the elementary and middle schools.

Booster, a school fundraising company, offers various levels of programs for schools. The company assists the PTO and keeps track of how much money is collected.

Booster profits from the event on a sliding scale, depending on how much money the school earns. On social media, parents were alleging the company takes 48% of the profits on top of a $2,000 flat fee.

PTO President Solen Moriarty clarified the payment issue, saying the $2,000 is a deposit later deducted from the balance owed to Booster.

“Further, the percentage is not a straight 48%, but rather moves on a sliding scale based on how much the school earns,” Moriarty wrote in an email. “In 2018-19 the funds raised through Boosterthon comprised approximately 44% of the PTO’s income.”

Moriarty said she was aware of some of the concerns raised, but noted the PTO was not told there would be a discussion at the School Committee meeting Monday night.

“The PTO has also received overwhelming positive feedback from parents, teachers and administrators about the overall experience at the school and at home,” Moriarty wrote.

“The PTO is extremely grateful to all the families and community members who supported the program, without which the PTO would be unable to fund the many activities, scholarships and cultural enrichment programs we provide for the students, teachers and schools.”

During the School Committee’s public comment period Monday, two parents expressed their concerns with the Fun Run.

Tricia Boateng, a parent of two students at Bresnahan, said the PTO has its “heart in the right place,” but is pressured with “the burden” of essential operating costs.

“This is the backdrop for how it is that Boosterthon ended up in our schools,” she said. “A for-profit company should not be allowed to come into our schools, use instructional time to hype kids up and solicit donations, and then leave with 48% — almost half of all the money raised.”

Another concerned parent came forward to call the fundraiser “exploitative” and asked the committee to set parameters for future PTO fundraisers. She said even if a parent chose not to have a child participate in the fundraiser, “the child still has to hear about the Fun Run multiple times a day.”

Mayor Donna Holaday said she would like to see a “comprehensive list of all the fundraising that is happening” in the district, how much money is raised at each fundraiser, and what policies are in place to ensure the money is directly benefiting clubs and organizations. This includes booster clubs, the PTO and groups that raise money for educational trips, she said.

School Committee members agreed that the Newburyport Education Foundation is “cut and dry” in its fundraising policies, but the committee wants to clarify policies for other such groups.

Committee member Steven Cole asked how detailed this list would be.

“If you’re going to be tracking down how many buckets of cookie dough each girls softball player had to sell this year or the year before, that’s not going to be easy to do,” he said.

Though Holaday said she did not wish to get that detailed, committee member David Hochheiser said he believes this issue extends to other fees parents pay for athletics and science labs.

“When we are asking parents for money for sports, when we are asking money to pay for sports tickets, when we are asking money for classes at the high school where the kids have to pay lab fees — the question is how much money are we asking parents for?” he said.

“People have been asking us to deal with some of these post-tax funding issues for years,” Hochheiser said.

He said the boys basketball team recently raised $14,000, but he doesn’t know why. “People are just curious as to why we are raising so much money.”

Committee members agreed to research fundraising in the district. In addition, administrators will contact other districts to see how other schools set guidelines for fundraising. From there, the committee will work to develop policies to address the concerns brought forth by parents this week.

Hochheiser concluded by saying the committee “fully and deeply appreciates” the work of the PTO. 

“I don’t want anyone to mistake our quest for clarity to be a lack of thanks,” he said.

Staff writer Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

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