A freshman student of mine sheepishly walked into class last week holding a box over which she draped a sweater. It was obvious she was hiding something nefarious. I asked her what was in the box and she revealed one of those giant fundraiser packages of chocolate. Apparently, she was trying to raise money for some after school club in which she was involved.
Her efforts to raise money that day fell far short of her goal. This is because she was told that she could not sell chocolate in the school. Apparently, chocolate is too fattening to be sold in Pharaoh Bloomberg’s Department of Education. This was the reason she was given at least.
However, a colleague in another school ran into a similar problem when they were trying to fundraise by selling bottles of water. The excuse given this time, which is the real reason why we cannot have fundraisers in our schools anymore, is that the water was not from a DOE-approved vendor.
This is the part of mayoral control that rarely gets spoken about. The school closings, co-locations and systematic harassment of teachers are only the most visible and disruptive manifestations of mayoral control of urban school systems. However, there are the countless day-to-day reminders that our system is under the sway of one man, a man who has never been in touch with those he is controlling. The banning of school fundraisers is one of the most insidious affects of mayoral control on our schools.
Bloomberg has turned our schools into little more than conduits of money for his corporate friends. When a Pharaoh/Mayor slashes funding to public schools every year, he leaves the schools with little choice but to fundraise to support the programs they need. Yet, since the products with which they fundraise, whether they be brand-name chocolates or homemade cookies, are not on the DOE’s list of “corporate friends of Bloomberg”, they cannot be sold on school property. This amounts to a corporate levy on poor people. The worst part about this levy is that it redirects money that the community would normally use to uplift itself into the pockets of billionaires. So children of NYC, you cannot have enrichment activities because the CEO of Pepsi needs your money to buy another few yachts.
Many years ago I was the senior advisor at my previous school. My job was to handle all of the senior activities: trips, prom, graduation and yearbook. Since the poverty rate of my seniors was exactly 100%, I made a vow that I would fundraise enough money so the kids would not have to pay for any of those things. I had worked up a good relationship with the owners of the bodega across the street. Throughout the year, they purchased all types of goodies for us at wholesale prices (for which we reimbursed them) and we made more money than I could have ever imagined.
I am not going to lie, what we were selling was horrible from a health standpoint. We sold cookies, airheads, jawbreakers, Sour Patches and even sugary sodas. This was back in the days before Bloomberg was trying to get NYC on a health kick. My principal had no problem with our operation. Then, one day, she came to me and said that our operation was cutting into the profits of the lunchroom staff who were selling cookies of their own. She asked me to work things out with the cafeteria’s supervisor.
The only thing I needed to know about the cookies they were selling was whether the profits went into the staff’s pockets. While I understood my seniors needed money, I also understood that it is tough to support a family working in a school cafeteria. When I was told that none of the money went into the pockets of the hardworking people in the lunchroom, I informed them that all bets were off. I was going to continue selling our goods. If the DOE wanted to make an issue out of poverty-stricken children trying to raise money for their senior year, I would ensure that every community group and civil rights organization would hear of it. Thankfully, nobody tried to bust up our operation and we had a tremendous year.
There is something wrong with the idea that we had to look over our shoulders while raising money. At times, I felt we were treated as if we were selling illegal drugs instead of junk food. There was a sense that the system did not want us to succeed. This was many years ago when the fundraising game was wide open. I cannot imagine what things are like now after Bloomberg’s war on sugary drinks and his compiled list of corporate cronies.
If NYC had more principals like Carol Burris, the Long Island principal who has been standing up against the excessive testing of our children, they could make a concerted effort to stand against Bloomberg’s ban on fundraising. If enough principals around the city openly defied Bloomberg’s ban on homemade brownies and brand-name chocolates; if they looked into television cameras and said they are forced to do this due to budget cuts; if they frame it as an issue of doing what is right by the children in their school, there is no way that they could fail. Bloomberg certainly cannot arrest them, although administrators being led out of their schools in handcuffs for selling chocolate sadly seems like a plausible scenario in today’s DOE. He cannot fire them all, even though he could certainly make things difficult for the defiant schools. At the end of the day, there would not be much that Bloomberg could do aside from watching his approval ratings plummet some more.
It might not be the right time for NYC principals to take a stand against the evaluations but it certainly is the right time for them to take a stand against the effective ban on fundraisers. A simple bake sale where parents and children bring all of the homemade sugary sweets they can concoct to school could turn into a real media event. It cannot lose. Bloomberg trying to shut down bake sales and fundraisers would make him look ridiculous and more heavy-handed than usual. If this can be done, it might fuel more acts of civil disobedience. It would be a fitting kick in the pants to Bloomberg on his way out of the door.
Unfortunately, this is all pie-in-the-sky talk. NYC principals by and large are all too eager to enforce every little mandate coming down from Tweed. That is the other part of mayoral control. The only way to survive and progress in the system is to support the Pharaoh’s policies without question. There will not be any resistance to Danielson or MOSL or bans on innocuous fundraisers made necessary by budget cuts. It will continue to be a mindless bureaucracy until there is a changing of the guard at the top of the pyramid.