28 Aug 2015

When did school fundraising get so fancy?

3:45 pm on 28 August 2015

Whatever happened to the humble sausage sizzle?

Women clink glasses of champagne at a party

Sausage sizzles and chocolate sales are being replaced by parents' balls, "fizz and quiz" auctions, and even performances by psychics. Photo: 123rf

One of New Zealand's most elite state high schools, Auckland Grammar, has recently released a cookbook, entitled A Taste of Grammar.

The book features recipes from current and former teachers and members of staff and their families, curated by old boy and "culinary visionary" Anthony Hoy Fong. The cost? A hefty $45 for the standard cookbook, going up to a whopping $110 for the "limited edition" hardback, which the school says is more of a presentation piece.

Decile 10 boys' school Wellington College is also shooting for wealthy parents' stomachs, with the sale of "Vintage 150"-branded Te Mata wine to celebrate its upcoming anniversary. The price? $150 for a six-bottle case, or $280 for 12 bottles.

Quirky fundraising is not limited to high-end, big-city schools. Timaru's Mountainview High School raised eyebrows last month when it called in a local psychic, Berry Newman, to perform in the decile 6 school's auditorium to raise money for an educational trip to Europe for classics and history students.

These are just the tip of the iceberg so far as inventive school fundraising efforts go. Muck-in jumble sales and Saturday school galas have been replaced by glamorous luxury events like parents' "fizz and quiz" charity auctions or balls.

Auckland primary schools Westmere and Bayfield are in well-heeled central suburbs Herne Bay and Westmere, where the combined average property CV is an eye-watering $1.76 million. They joined together last month to invite parents to their annual spring ball, with tickets on sale for $85, including a late-night supper.

But after what parents called a "rowdy" inaugural parents' ball two years ago, the schools issued a code of conduct reminding them not to pre-load on alcohol before or to take drugs at the event.

In 2013, Auckland Grammar's fundraising event helped anxious parents kill two birds with one stone: support the school, and boost their children's CVs. The school's online auction sold off 17 priceless professional opportunities, including internships and work experience "packages" in everything from film and television to law at top firms around the city.

The promotional video for the event showed Grammar "old-boy" Leo trying to make his way in the big wide world, trying out a variety of workplaces, including Big Four auditor KPMG and national radio station The Edge.

All-girls' private school Diocesan hosts a "fizz and quiz" event with a similar premise. Last year's 41-page catalogue listed internships in Sydney and New York - with airfares and an apartment thrown in - alongside extravagant holidays in the Cook Islands and the South of France. It is a far cry from their comparatively modest $30 cookbook, released just six years earlier.

The auction included two weeks' accommodation in the South of France.

One of the items up for grabs in the auction was two weeks' accommodation in the South of France. Photo: 123rf

But who are these efforts targeting - and why do schools keep asking parents to dig deeper and deeper?

Auckland Grammar Director of Advancement Amanda Stanes said the school fundraises to cover costs beyond the day-to-day operational costs.

She acknowledged that there were difficulties in fundraising, with parents having many separate demands on their wallets.

"I think all schools struggle. If you want to offer something more for your students, then you have to think of more innovative ways to do it.

"In order to retain and recruit our very best teachers, we have to have a strategy in place. But ultimately, parents have the right to choose where their money is going, and we do have tremendous uptake from our parents," she said.

New Zealand Parent Teachers Association president Diane O'Sullivan said the purpose of fundraising had changed: where it used to be for the extras, increasingly it is being employed to help out with essentials.

But she acknowledged that one school's essentials were another school's extras: "Some schools do a lot, because they have great expectations, like building a music suite, whereas at other schools, it's just so the children can have a playground."

She said one reason that one-off events had become increasingly popular was because they required less sustained commitment from parents, unlike weekly sausage sizzles.

"Parents are time-poor now, and they want something that's quick, easy and doesn't take a lot of work. But many and varied are the ways of fundraising," she added.

Donations - or school fees?

Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O'Connor wrote to the Ministry of Education earlier this year to ask for a change in system - moving away from the $1075 optional donation his school currently charges per year for each child and to a mandatory school fee.

Although that $1075 donation may seem steep, there is no cap on how much schools can ask for - and almost 80 percent of parents are happy to comply with it. These donations, coupled with additional fundraising efforts, pulled in $1.9 million for the school in 2013.

The decile 9 school receives $932 less state funding per child than the lowest-decile school, and these donations help to make up the shortfall, Mr O'Connor said.

He said there was a discrepancy of $2.3m between the school's annual operational cost and the government funding they receive each year.

Going to a school like Auckland Grammar has costs beyond the donations, however: many parents pay a premium of as much as $500,000 extra on a property because it is in the Grammar zone.

Which all makes $110 for a cookbook seem like a drop in the ocean.