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Posted on Wed, May 8, 2013 : 10 a.m.

Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop may host targeted giving to save programs from budget cuts

By Danielle Arndt


The Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, located at 2280 S. Industrial Hwy., is developing a plan for accepting targeted monetary donations from AAPS community members to support specific programs they want to see spared from the 2013-14 budget cuts. file photo

Ann Arbor Public Schools families may have a way to fundraise and save the programs near and dear to their hearts sooner than they think.

Targeted giving was a major focus of the final community budget forum held Tuesday night at Pioneer High School.

The meeting was scheduled to take place from 7-8:30 p.m., but lasted about 45 minutes longer due to the large turnout and some developing fund-raising news from Ann Farnham, executive director of the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop.


Ann Farnham

When targeted giving emerged as one of the most frequent feedback pieces from the nearly 130 parents, teachers and students' small group discussions on the budget Tuesday, Ann Arbor Superintendent Patricia Green put Farnham on the spot and asked her to share what she and others at the PTO Thrift Shop have been working on.

Farnham said it is the thrift shop's desire to create a drop-down menu on its website that would link to PayPal and allow community members to donate as much or as little as they would like to fund any program or service that's important to them. Whether it be art, theater, music, transportation or athletics, the hope would be to generate enough money and support to save those programs from the chopping block or to at least diminish the impact to students, school officials said.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools is facing a budget shortfall of $8.67 million for the 2013-14 academic year, and many painful cuts are on the table, including: closing the middle school pools; eliminating 80 employee positions, 53 of them teachers; eliminating high school transportation; and significantly cutting middle school sports.

More on the Ann Arbor schools budget

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Farnham said generally, the PTO Thrift Shop prefers to leave the private gift-giving and major fundraising campaigns to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation. However, because deadlines for the foundation's grants have passed and the foundation also in a transition period and redefining itself under a new executive director who started in February, the thrift shop hopes to "get the ball rolling," she said.

District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said the PTO Thrift Shop is very progressive and innovative when it comes to helping out the district and has the ability to perform a quick turnaround when approached with a specific need from the schools.

"And Ann is just wonderful," Margolis said. "She's a real go-getter."

Farnham expects there would be very little administrative/operating costs to the thrift shop for managing the targeted giving.

"The button's already there," she said, referring the "donate" tab on the thrift shop's website that links to PayPal and a way for the community to contribute to the funds the shop gives the AAPS annually for PTOs, club sports, after-school enrichment opportunities, field trip busing and late busing at the middle schools.

"We haven't found anything to impede us from doing this yet," Farnham said of the targeted giving.

She said the targeted giving concept would have to be approved by the thrift shop's board of directors and the nonprofit organization would need some technical assistance setting up the PayPal drop-down menu that Farnham is envisioning on the website.

Community members who attended Tuesday's budget forum asked whether as part of the targeted giving initiative if people could make donations toward the district's operational expenses, such as teachers and teacher salaries or books. Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Legal Services David Comsa said teacher salaries is unlikely, but he would have to look into the legality of accepting monetary donations for books and other operational costs.

Equity was talked about at length at the budget forum. In particular, residents in attendance had concerns about inequities in per-pupil spending at Ann Arbor's four primary high schools. Parents, staff and students suggested making cuts that would distribute programs, opportunities and teachers more evenly among the schools.

One parent, Nancy Kupina, said she is concerned about the inequities that would result from targeted giving. She said she could see how popular programs with many students and broad interest community-wide, such as theater or athletics, would be able to generate enough support to save it from the budget cuts. But a program like the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, with a small student population, might not be able to. And "is that fair?" she asked.

The concept of targeted giving will continue to be researched throughout the coming weeks, school officials said.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

Ann is always thinking outside the box. She would never support some hidden agenda. She would come by and personally pick up a donation for the thrift store. A bag of clothing. Try volunteering at the thrift store, get a feel for what they are about before ripping their ideas limb from limb. Get involved!


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 11:08 a.m.

Why not send your child to a private school? Makes sense if you're going to be paying for programs that are important to you and your child. Lots of options for elementary school aged children in this area.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 2:09 a.m.

This is a really great way to try and help. Hard to understand all of the comments about what should be targeted. Everything should be, and it is then up to the donor. Don't bite the hand that feeds - or donates. Maybe the City of Ann Arbor can get off the pot now. This is probably the most critical public service provided here in A2, and I've heard nothing from the leadership in the City about ways they can help. Or where they stand on the issue. But hey, they've got that windmill they are working on.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:52 a.m.

Got into a disagreement with United Way over "targeted giving". Found out that "targeted giving" is a feel good fraud. Won't ever do targeted giving again.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

DJ: I totally agree. I shop at PTO all the time and enjoy doing so. Can't get out of the place without buying something. Just wanted people to be aware that to often "targeted giving" is just a ploy to make you think your money actually is going to where you want it....perhaps the PTO version would be different.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 3:22 a.m.

United Way has had some serious problems, it is anybody's guess where your money is going in an organization that big. At least with buying some used pants or a book at PTO or Kiwanis or Salvation Army you are getting something tangible for your donation beyond the charity aspect.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:07 a.m.

They just want us to give them money with no controls? What is their intake each year and what percent of that do they donate? What is Ann's salary and what are the details behind their expenses? Sounds like a business hiding as a non-profit and trying to increase revenue??


Fri, May 10, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

The AA PTO Thrift Shop is a non-profit that runs entirely to support the AA Public Schools. Last year, the Thrift Shop gave a very large amount of money to the AA Public Schools, which helped to save several programs from the chopping block. If you really want to know the answers to your questions, you should contact the Thrift Shop directly to ask Ann. The answers should put your concerns to rest.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 3:08 a.m.

By definition a non-profit is an entity whose books are open to public inspection. I am sure if you contact the shop you could get copies of their financial records, which would include salaries as part of the operating expenses. A quick look at their IRS form 990 online shows 2011 total revenues of $876,123. Their expenses were mainly wages, rent and utilities, insurance and taxes. All their income was from the sale of used merchandise. They gave over $250,000 to the schools that year. It looks like almost every dollar they earned above expenses was given to the schools. There are no outrageous salaries at the shop, most of the wages are made up of part or full-time jobs paying about $10/hour. It doesn't look to me like anyone hiding anything. Have you been to the shop? It is not a luxuriously appointed building. The executive directors office is a windowless interior room. When they have (open to the public) board meetings with the school reps they are held in the back warehouse. My impression of the shop is good people trying to do something for the students of the public schools, trying to keep in place all the enrichment opportunities for kids that are constantly being cut by the BOE budget process.

Basic Bob

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 11:32 p.m.

i'm going to pledge my giving to administrator wages, an addition to the football locker rooms, more substitute teachers, early retirement incentives, and keeping open underused and obsolete facilities. just like the school board.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

"She said she could see how popular programs with many students and broad interest community-wide, such as theater or athletics, would be able to generate enough support to save it from the budget cuts.", I'm supposed to donate to something I don't care about? Suck it up buttercup. Have a bake sale if it is important to you.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:40 a.m.

I think the point is that you're supposed to donate to causes you care about, @EyeHeartA2 - if you don't care about something, just don't donate. This is not a tax that's being levied on everyone.

John of Saline

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 5:59 p.m.

Someone should do an Atkins "bake" sale and sell protein bars, bacon, etc.

Dan Rubenstein

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 5:36 p.m.

Danielle - I am curious if there are financial controls and policies in place to ensure that donations earmarked for particular things are not spent on other things or smeared across operational funding. As a member of a PTSO, I have learned that the "pay to play" sports money, contrary to common sense assumptions, does not stay with the school or even the sport. That means even with pay to play revenue sports still face shortfalls that PTSOs are sometimes asked to pick up. Hiking pay to play fees would not necessarily translate into more funding for sports, but it could help the district's overall budget make ends meet. Is the board addressing this situation and if so, how?


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 3:17 a.m.

I see what you are saying now. I suppose that it would be natural for the BOE to axe items if someone else was picking up the slack. Well, the article says they are just thinking about it, I suppose the devil is in the details. I can imagine it is a challenge for these outside entities like the Thriftshop and the Foundations to work with the AAPS, and still try to maintain equity in giving. It seems like the BOE cannot even get a grip on their own budget, until there is stability there this targeted giving might be hard to implement.

Dan Rubenstein

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:55 a.m.

DJ - I still think we're not quite on the same page. Even if the money from the PTSO does go to a targeted activity and it is not "handled" by AAPS, unless there is some constraint on AAPS from reducing funding to that same activity in parellel (to make up shortfalls elsewhere), donations will not build up the targeted activity, they will merely allow the targeted activity to be funded more and more independently of AAPS. Now, I don't know how to overcome this problem. Particularly in iterative budget cycles, it will be human nature to defund activities that seem to be adequately funded by donations. Pay to play was more of an analogy than anything else. In that case the actual money is smeared. With donations it's more of a displacement effect. But the net effect is the same. The question is, can policies be implemented that ensure activities targeted through donations actually enjoy incremental net funding? I suggest this is something AAPS should be thinking about. Otherwise, this donation proposal will not function as I think donors would intend.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 12:23 a.m.

When I was a PTO member at my kids school, my role for one year was PTO Thriftshop rep. The checks from the PTO Thriftshop were made out to the PTO Treasurer for our school, and deposited to our PTO accounts. There was no AAPS handling of the money. I don't know what he case might be for these potential targeted accounts, but I agree it has to be set up so that the donated funds find their way, in full, to the target activities.

Dan Rubenstein

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 10:51 p.m.

DJ - I appreciate your insights. However, the issue I am addressing is how AAPS tracks and uses the money after it is given, whether by the PTSOTS or an individual PTSO or an individual. If the incremental income is simply credited towards a unit's existing allocation which allows Balas to give less to that purpose and free up money for operating or other expenses, the purpose of the donation is defeated.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

The PTOTS giving is very equitable and goes only to the schools through the PTOs, no monies are allowed to be sent to general funds or other operating expenses at the schools. There is tax paperwork that all the school PTOs receive that shows where the money goes. I would imagine that this program would work the same way, the PTOTS would be acting as a pass-through directly to each targeted giving program. I would also imagine this is a low or no-cost alternative to having the school district run something like this, if indeed they would even be allowed to. As for the pay-to-play fees being misdirected, that is one of the reasons the ThriftShop distributes as it does. It keeps the end use of the money in the students hands, and in the control of the PTOs, not the BOE.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

Will there be a dedicated PayPal link to donate for school supplies, too? The Balas administration is much too important to cut their salaries, we must find other sources of revenue for such trivial things.

Danielle Arndt

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

DiagSquirrel, some school supplies are considered operational expenses rather than programs or services. There are legal restrictions in Michigan, under Prop A, on how districts can obtain funds to support operations. School supplies would fall under those things that David Comsa needs to check into.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.

There is also a discussion underway at PTOTS about providing inexpensive school supplies year-round, in the manner of the "school stores" that some PTOs run at their schools.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

A very nice idea, and kudos to Ann Farnham for her initiative. However, this certainly won't solve the problem that we seem to face annually, which is the AAPS being unable to operate within budget. It reminds me of the saying "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to be a fisherman, and he will eat for a lifetime." Also, I do share Nancy Kupina's concern about the fairness of the distribution of the proceeds. While I understand that life is not fair, it does seem that the schools with higher enrollment of students from lower-income families could be at another disadvantage.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:38 a.m.

I agree with your concerns about fairness, @squidlover. I know this issue is something that various PTO's have talked about for years. I would hope that programs featured in targeted giving would be programs that affect a large number of AAPS students - middle school pools, for example, or school library book budgets - rather than programs at a particular school.

Ricardo Queso

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:24 a.m.

So should we all accept mediocrity in the name of "fairness"?


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

"One parent, Nancy Kupina, said she is concerned about the inequities that would result from targeted giving. She said she could see how popular programs with many students and broad interest community-wide, such as theater or athletics, would be able to generate enough support to save it from the budget cuts. But a program like the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center, with a small student population, might not be able to. And "is that fair?" she asked." At some point the desire to be treated fairly crosses over to a sense of entitlement. Just saying.

Jeff Gaynor

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

This is an essential question and one we are uncomfortable discussing. Does being fair mean focusing on doing what the majority of well educated and relatively wealthy families want - e.g. extra-curricular activities and lots of awards for their kids and schools, or does being fair mean attending to the basic educational needs of the less privileged - and may I say less entitled - students in our district. Still, I want to make it clear that I feel it is grossly unfair that schools and families and students are being put in a position of massive infighting due to the lack of feasible funding from the state.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 2:41 a.m.

Not sure what point the end of this article is making: focusing on "popular programs with many students and broad interest community-wide" sounds to me like the definition of "fair" when it comes to community funding.

Angry Moderate

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

Hopefully they will make transportation for homeless students an option, since it apparently became one of our biggest expenses all of a sudden.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

Transportation of homeless children is an expensive all school districts incur. Whatever school a child last attended before becoming homeless, they have to be transported to that school regardless of where they are given shelter. In other words back to their home school.