NEWBURYPORT — Members of the Newburyport Parent Teacher Organization appeared before the School Committee on Monday night to address recently raised concerns about the Boosterthon Fun Run — a fundraiser organized in partnership with a for-profit company.

The Fun Run, which took place in January, raised $46,100 for Francis T. Bresnahan Elementary and Edward G. Molin Upper Elementary schools, but parents were concerned about the transparency associated with the fundraiser. 

Each year, families pledge a certain amount of money for each lap students run up to 35 laps. This is the third year that families with children at Bresnahan participated and the first year for families from Molin.

Before a meeting Feb. 3, committee members received emails from parents after it was discovered that Booster, a school fundraising company, receives close to half the profits from the event.

Booster works with thousands of schools around the country, but it's up to each school to decide the level of profit.

The actual amount that Booster keeps from the fundraiser is on a sliding scale depending on its involvement in the event. In 2018-19, Booster received 44% of the money raised, according to the PTO. 

Each school can customize its partnership with Booster, but the main service it provides is its software, which tracks and collects the pledges made. 

There are four main tiers — Booster Live, Booster Event, Booster You and Booster Pledge Pro — and each dictates how much involvement Booster will have in the event. If a school has the volunteers to put on such an event, that school has the opportunity to keep more of the money. 

For example, Booster Pledge Pro allows schools to keep up to 90% of what is raised, but it requires schools to do most of the work.

Newburyport uses Booster Live, which means Booster is completely involved from the beginning to end and does a lot of the major work.

PTO treasurer Pam San Antonio told the School Committee that the reason for choosing this level has to do with a lack of parent volunteers.

Speaking with The Daily News before the meeting Monday, Rophe Mason, general manager of New England for Booster, said, "On average, schools raise 60% more with the Fun Run than they do with other fundraisers, historically speaking."

Others in the area that use Booster Live include the Pentucket Regional School District, Charles C. Cashman Elementary School in Amesbury, Salisbury Elementary School and Newbury Elementary School, she said.

The Newburyport PTO, which serves the elementary and the middle schools, raises just over $80,000 each year, and a large portion of that money goes toward field trip transportation, San Antonio told the School Committee. Other costs the PTO fronts include money for student activities, school assemblies, classroom and playground supplies, teacher appreciation efforts and various scholarships.

The idea for the Boosterthon was proposed a few years ago and the PTO didn't expect it to be such a success, San Antonio explained. "Indeed, the biggest chunk of our budget in these past few years has come through the Boosterthon Fun Run."

School Committee member David Hochheiser thanked the PTO for its efforts and suggested the committee take a closer look at all the costs it takes on.

If the PTO is putting all of this money toward expenses such as transportation for field trips, then maybe the committee should look at other alternatives for addressing these costs, he explained.

Hochheiser also suggested better communication with families about the process, including updating the PTO website more frequently.

Booster team members, including Mason, also attended the meeting Monday to share information about their mission.

One of the biggest concerns raised by parents was the presence of Booster members in the classroom, which Mason said is up to the schools. She said members are not in the classroom unless they are invited and typically, it is for about five to 10 minutes.

In addition to building excitement for the Fun Run, Booster offers brief lessons in "character enrichment," which is an opportunity to talk about subjects such as honesty or healthy eating.

Hochheiser asked what this means and why it's happening, saying Newburyport schools are already equipped to provide these lessons. 

Mason said schools don't have to include that aspect, adding that all schools customize the program to their specific needs.

Vice Chair Bruce Menin said the questions about the Boosterthon Fun Run have allowed for a wider conversation. He hopes this will be an opportunity for the committee to look at where funding is needed and perhaps address that.

"We want to figure out how we can support the work that you are doing," he told the PTO.

Staff reporter 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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