The Newton Schools Foundation’s naming rights campaign has sparked debates online and on the airwaves and raised further questions about this unusual method of raising money for public education.
The foundation has proposed raising money for technology in the school district by selling the naming rights to auditoriums, laboratories, athletic fields and art studios at the city’s two high schools to local businesses, alumni and families. The schools foundation hopes to launch the campaign in the fall and raise between $3 million to $6 million in three years.
But Newton’s aldermen must first create a revolving fund for the campaign. The city would collect the money from selling naming rights into this fund. The city would also write checks from this fund to pay for the administrative-type costs incurred by the Newton Schools Foundation for the campaign, an anticipated $320,000 over three years.
Subscribers to the Newton parents’ forum have debated the proposal for the past two days, contributors to a Newton-centered blog called Village 14 weighed in on the plan, and co-hosts of the Jim & Margery Show sounded-off on morning radio.
Newton Alderwoman Amy Mah Sangiolo, whose committee will review the revolving fund proposal on May 19, also sent city officials a list of questions about the proposal.
She said aldermen need to understand the details of this fundraiser, including if Newton should have an overall policy on naming rights; whether the funds raised should go for technology needs, short term capital needs, long-term infrastructure or program endowments; should the city go out for a public bid for the fundraising service; and what is the appropriate costs.
Jeff Seideman, a Newton resident and local activist, said he doesn’t have a problem selling naming rights, although, “I just think it’s sort of cheesy.”
Seideman said he worries that this money will go into technology without the in-depth training to ensure that teachers know how to fully integrate the tools into their everyday lessons.
“This technology, is the latest hula-hoop,” Seideman said. “The second that the newest technology lands on the doorstep it becomes obsolete.”
Some in Newton also questioned whether the Newton Schools Foundation, which has generally given smaller grants to teachers, can take on such a large campaign.
Margaret Albright, a Newton fundraising consultant, said raising millions can be a challenge.
“A community campaign is something that can work,” Albright said. “It really has to be done really carefully.”
She recommends getting a large donor in place to help kick off the campaign and talking about how learning will be improved with the money and not just the stuff that the money will buy.
But she also questioned whether donors will be willing to give money to have their name attached to a specific room in a school, even if the money goes to a completely different program. Usually, if somebody wants their name linked to a library, it’s because they care about books, not necessarily technology, Albright said.
Still, Albright acknowledged that school districts can't just rely on taxpayers to boost student achievement.
"If we really, really want to have the world class education," Albright said. "It’s going to take more than maintenance dollars from taxpayers."
Marcia Tabenken, a foundation board member, said the organization has been doing its research on how to launch such a campaign. The board has hired an executive director with fundraising experience and brought on members to the board who have business connections and expertise in raising money, she said.
The money raised would not only buy equipment, but also pay for training teachers. And the foundation hopes to create a long-term fund to pay for future technology needs, Tabenken said.
The foundation, which irked some parent-teacher organizations a few years ago with its fundraising tactics, is on a new path, Tabenken said.
Two years ago, the school system asked the foundation to raise money to put smartboards in every fifth-grade classroom. To raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the foundation asked PTOs to turn over money they had raised in separate technology fundraising efforts to the foundation’s whiteboard campaign.
The smartboard fundraiser created a rift between some PTOs and the foundation, Tabenken said.
But there is new leadership at the foundation and within the school district, she said.
Reach Deirdre Fernandes at email@example.com.