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Should teachers be able to ‘crowdfund’? DPS bans method for its schools

Dayton’s school board on Tuesday approved a new policy prohibiting school employees from launching crowdfunding campaigns on behalf of Dayton Public Schools or any individual DPS school.

Crowdfunding is generally the process of raising money for an effort by soliciting contributions from a large number of people, especially online.

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Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said there are district funding streams available for many items that teachers can tap into. She said with no mechanism to track crowdfunding, DPS doesn’t want to make “an error in judgment” by allowing the process and then not having the manpower to control it.

The Ohio Auditor’s office this year encouraged schools to set formal crowdfunding policies. The auditor’s report said the risks of crowdfunding include compromising student confidentiality, diversion of donations for private use, inviting federal or state scrutiny of educational programs and bad publicity for the school district if a crowdfunding campaign is mishandled.

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A quick check of the GoFundMe crowdfunding website shows some older DPS crowdfunding campaigns. In 2014, Wogaman school staff raised $1,085 to buy “planner” notebooks for students, and in 2015, special education teachers at Meadowdale Elementary raised $500 for a field trip to the Newport Aquarium. One DPS paraprofessional tried to raise money last year so she could go back to school.

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A national search of GoFundMe for the words “classroom supplies” showed 8,473 campaigns, with many teachers raising $500 or more for low-income school districts across the country. Teachers also use the DonorsChoose website to solicit funds for their classrooms, with several DPS teachers currently asking for funds for books, Legos, games and more.

Dayton teachers union president David Romick said his organization will get the word out to members about Tuesday’s vote so teachers aren’t violating board policy.

“Teachers have, for years, had to go into their own pockets to fund their own classrooms,” Romick said. “Given this vote, we would continue to encourage teachers to look for grant opportunities, from the DPS Foundation, Crayons to Classrooms or other groups to avoid crossing this board policy.”

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It’s not clear whether Dayton’s proposed policy would allow teachers to crowdfund for their individual needs, if they did not mention the school district or their school building. The language of DPS’ new policy is only two sentences. Beyond the basic prohibition, it adds: “Staff is not permitted to use the name of the district or any of its schools, or any images or text related to the district, in any online fundraising effort or campaign.”

The policy cross-references several existing district policies, including conflicts of interest, public gifts to the district and public solicitations in schools. It also references passages of state law that forbid “public servants” from soliciting or accepting certain compensation to perform their official duties.

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