Stung by budget cuts and subsequent loss of teachers and programs in its public schools ever since the onset of the recession, Parkland is putting up a united front to ensure that its schools continue to have what it takes to provide quality education.
Teachers, parents, administrators and business leaders in Parkland recently came together to form The Parkland Public Schools Fund, a nonprofit organization that aims to raise funds and support the five public schools in the city. The organization, formed in association with the Broward Education Foundation, is the first of its kind at the municipal level in Broward County.
“We are losing teachers and programs; we are bleeding badly,” Elizabeth Pittinger, Fund president and the one to initiate talks with the Foundation, said. “We need to step in before it is too late. We plan to raise money to help all the five schools within the city. It has not been done in the county, but I’ve seen it happen in other places like Georgia, where I come from, and Alabama.”
“We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world and we can’t even fund public schools,” Pittinger said. “Number one on the wishlist of teachers at Douglas High is paper; they are giving extra credits to students who bring in paper. The middle school does not have money to pay for forms to take tests. Park Trails Elementary does not have a PE field.”
“When you have budget cuts and lose personnel, standards will start to deteriorate,” Pittinger said. “Good schools mean more people moving into the city [and] businesses are aware that public schools are the foundation of the local economy. They know it is important to support public schools. Everyone stands to benefit from what we plan to do.”
“This is an example of community-led initiatives at its best,” Mayor Michael Udine said. “I am excited to see a grass roots organization of teachers, administrators, parents and business leaders working together to find additional funding to support our public schools. The county is looking to our model as a means of reaching all schools county-wide.”
“Florida is 50th out of 50 for funding public education and we just had more cuts,” Jack Vesey, principal of Westglades Middle School, said. “We need the community to get involved and help.”
“We have started soliciting requests from teachers,” Pittinger said. “We will rank the requests. Anyone who donates to the fund can earmark the donation to a specific school or even to a specific project.”
“It is uncharted territory for all of us,” LaMae Klos, organization vice president in charge of publicity, said. “But everyone realizes the importance of making this work. Things are moving backward for every public school in the county. If we can make it work in Parkland, other cities too will want to do something similar. I already had a parent from Coral Springs reach out.”
The nonprofit organization has a great chance of making a real impact, Coco Burns, Broward Education Foundation program coordinator, said. “I think it is a great idea. It is no secret that schools all over the county are hurting badly. They need all the help they can get. In the last two years, we have focused on music, arts, drama and PE [since] those programs have been drastically cut in many schools.”
“We have the teacher grant fund and we provide scholarships to deserving students as well,” Burns said. “In 2010-2011, we have given out $170,000 to 320 teachers in the county. We also have the Kids In Need Resource Center, which provides free school supplies and funding to aid students and teachers in title one schools.”
Every school in the city will have its principal, a parent, a teacher and the PTA president on the board,” Pittinger said. “We can start raising money right away and intend to ask for grant money from large corporations. We would like to raise $100,000 this year. It is not a long-term solution, but it will at least stop the bleeding.”
The creation of the organization comes in the backdrop of Parkland being named among the top education cities in 2011, and the best among those with median home prices in the $400,000 to $600,000 range. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been recognized by Newsweek magazine more than once as being among the top high schools in the nation.
For details, visit parklandfund.org, call 954-234-4937 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.