Should a Public School Principal Approach Churches for Financial Help?

David McCalla, the principal of (public) Albany High School in New York, wanted to purchase SMART Boards for all the classrooms in his building. (For those who don’t know what SMART Boards are, I use them in my math classrooms every day and *trust* me when I say they’re amazing. I’d be lost without them.)

Anyway, for McCalla, the total cost to put the equipment in each classroom was $275,000. Not a good-looking number when you already have budget issues.

So McCalla approached local clergy:

With the school board grappling with budget problems, he took an unconventional route by approaching some Albany church leaders.

“Getting the widest range of people, the quickest way is through the church,” he said.

On a recent weekday, McCalla met with the ministers to demonstrate the boards, known as interactive whiteboards, and show what the city’s students were missing out on.

By the end of the week, they called a news conference and already had begun collecting donations from their church members and challenging local businesses to help them raise $60,000 by the end of January so the school could buy 30 new of the boards.

As far as I can tell, there are no strings attached to the financial contributions. It’s hard for me to criticize the principal for going to the religious groups in the community to ask for help when it’s tough to get that money from other sources. I also commend the churches for helping the children and teachers.

But I still feel a bit queasy about this relationship… do you?

Is the principal crossing the line by reaching out to the church community? If not, what would have to happen before that line was crossed?

(Thanks to Trace for the link)

  • http://angryatheist.net ANGRYATHEIST

    No, Tax the churches and give the tax money to the schools.

  • Valdyr

    I say go for it as long as there’s no obligation to provide any kind of platform for church ideas in the school; fundie money spends just as good as anyone else’s.

  • silver_fox-trot

    Personally, I don’t see it any different than going to a city hall meeting and asking the people there for donations, or going to the local millionaire and asking for money.

    As long there are no conditions that breach the church/state separation (like the church asking for exclusive rights to preach at the school, etc) then there is no problem.

    A donation is a donation is a donation.

    In my opinion, this church is doing what it’s supposed to do; help their community and the next generation. We should remember that some people at churches are intelligent, generous, and interesting in seeing their children grow intellectually.

    Not all theist are closed-minded bigots, we should give the good ones their 15 minutes as well.

  • http://alessamendes.blogspot.com Alessa Mendes

    I wouldn’t feel right. I know that I, personally, wouldn’t contribute a time to help a church for their religious causes, so I’d never expect them to assist me.

    I’m sure the principle could have found other means (fundraisers, etc). It would have been good to include the students, as well.

  • REX

    I don’t see a problem with some of that tax free money going back to the public sector!

  • Michelle

    I think the entire reason they are tax free is because they are somewhat obligated to help the needy. I see nothing wrong with using some of that obligation to get items in school that are nice, but not required at this point, so no room in the budget.

    As long as the money is given without requirements or exchange, it is total charity and not a problem as far as I’m concerned.

  • MaleficVTwin

    A church is no different than any other private organization in this regard. If the intention is to help the kids and nothing more, I have no issue with it.

  • Jeremy

    I think, as everyone has expressed already, the donations are okay as long as there are no strings attached.

    The line is crossed once strings are attached; then it’s not okay.

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    I agree w/ the “as long as there are no strings attached” mentality..I’m just having a hard time believing that there won’t be any strings. I can see this coming back to them in the future…like the mafia ;)

  • Revyloution

    Since we ‘non’s’ represent nearly 20% of the population, what makes me queasy is that no one comes to ask us for this kind of help.

    I guess it comes from not having a Pope or a cohesive community. We’ve hammered this one before, but it’s still a problem. It doesn’t matter how generous we are as individuals, we won’t be recognized until we all act in concert.

    It seems cynical to want to pool our generosity just for personal recognition, but as long as we remain a loose group of loners, secularism will continue to be a non entity in US politics.

  • Jonas

    I don’t see an immediate problem with this, again as long as the money is voluntarily given, all churches (add Ethical-Culture, and the local AHA chapter, or CoalitionOfReason if they are around, for completeness). And Absolutely no strings to “Preach” – thus maintaining state/church separation.

    I do as a side, think that churches should be taxed something, if not the same as other non-profits, or for-profit corps. – Arguing they have a special unique class.

    — But (I hope) they all have running water, need & get Trash Picked up and other basic services the Town provides.

    Churchs should be about helping the community and doing Good, not claiming to do Good on the name of God.

  • Heidi

    I think the entire reason they are tax free is because they are somewhat obligated to help the needy.

    Um, no. the entire reason they are tax exempt is that they are (at least nominally) a non-profit organization. So is Greenpeace. And they are also tax exempt.

    I would have felt a lot better about this relationship if the principal had just put it out there in the community that they needed help, and the church had offered their resources.

  • Claudia

    I have absolutely no problem with it if there are no strings attached. In fact, I think that giving money to schools has to be on a short list of the best possible places to put church money. If the vast majority of church funds went into improving educational facilities, helping the poor and caring for the sick, and none went into, say, denying gays and lesbians their civil rights, I would feel much better about churches generally.

  • Potco

    I have no problem with it if there are no strings attached.

  • http://www.theflightlessgeek.co.nz James

    I’m going with the crowd on this one. As long as there are no explicit or implicit strings attached and it’s just money to help the school get these boards then it’s all good as I see.

    The moment any string are attached, either something like explicit time to use in the classroom or implicit by the church owning the boards, then I’d have a problem with it.

    But from the post it looks like it’s all above board.

  • Brad

    You can’t exclude people from contributing to the community just because they might be Christians.

  • http://www.twitter.com/shocktwist Brittany

    I have a bit of a queasy feeling with the relationship too, but I feel it’s more of a critique of sorts on society and our current economy.

    Some public schools just don’t have enough money to obtain nice and new technology like Smart Boards, and in this current economy, state officials are going to be more concerned about their wallets than whether or not the kids in the poor schools have decent means of learning.

    I think it’s sad that a public school has to go to religious organizations to get money that should come from the state government. It’s disappointing.

    But like most others have said- I don’t see a problem with it so long as there are no strings attached.

    I’m sure the principle could have found other means (fundraisers, etc). It would have been good to include the students, as well.

    Raising $60,000 in the course of a month from church donations is going to be a lot more efficient than holding some bake sale during a basketball game. When a school needs equipment that costs like $2,000 for one unit, fundraisers just aren’t going to cut it.

  • Heidi

    You can’t exclude people from contributing to the community just because they might be Christians.

    And that’s not the issue here.

  • JSug

    I have a question that isn’t really clear from the post. Was the money donated by the churches as organizations, or was it donated by individual church members, specifically for this purpose?

    I would be more concerned about the former. The latter doesn’t bother me.

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    If humanist/athiest organizations were as large as churches, we’d likely get the same treatment. In fact, maybe encourage the local atheists in Albany to match what the churches raise, dollar for dollar! Or make it a religion vs. atheism contest of who can raise the most cash for schools. And make it all string-free naturally.

  • Alan

    The only problem I could see with this is the schools becoming dependent upon this money donated by churches and at a later date the churches choose to stop donating.
    But for this situation, a one time deal with no power being given to the donators, I love it and respect the church for doing so.

  • TychaBrahe

    Please note that the churches didn’t donate the money; churchMEMBERS did. The churches were the venue by which the schools reached out to the public. Although there are obviously citizens who do not attend church regularly, or merely missed that day’s sermon, the drive generated media attention, which reached out beyond the chapels to the public at large.

    I would feel better had the principal approached a variety of funding sources: churches, synagogues, mosques, and secular civic organizations such as the Lions and Rotary. However, the reality is that 40% of the population is in church any given Sunday. Bill Handel was an excellent podcast on marketing to the faithful, which can be heard at http://bit.ly/66VJxb

  • Richard P

    Ah Shit!!!
    Well I guess there is always a first time. Now I will have to say,
    “Okay, there’s one good thing that has came from religion.

    Bout time too!!!

    They suck a huge amount from our economy as it is. Why should the good of mankind,(or kids in the Albany High School) not be able to access this.

    Isn’t that what they are supposed to be about? Helping there fellow man and all that.

    It’s about time they did something besides preach prejudice and intolerance, in the name of a god they claim no one can know the mind of anyway. They always talk about the good religion does, I hear a lot about it, but don’t see much. Hell, there should be a law, that forces them to do stuff like this.

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    I feel that all churches and other houses of worship should be taxed. They take away alot of resources from local communities especially in inner city neighborhoods.

    As long as they don’t have any strings attached, i think the principal did right.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I’ll jump on the “so long as there aren’t any strings” bandwagon and also toss in the fact that I live about 30 minutes from there and can report back with any updates :)

  • muggle

    Um, teacher, member of the community raises her hand to be heard…

    There’s more to this story. The night after that story was on the news locally, this one was:

    MONEY MISMANAGEMENT

    Yes, I know that’s Fox News. Our local is much better than the national. I actually find them fairly complete. (And HDTV reveals that their evening anchor has one blue eye and one brown, something that doesn’t show up on analog but I digress.)

    Even before this story, I smelt a rat. Being the natural-born questioner of everything that I am, I immediately thought when the first story aired, why is he only going to the churches? Why didn’t he simply hold that press conference at the school and ask the community at large?

    I’ll tell you why in a nutshell, he only welcomes input from certain members of the community and I ain’t one of them. In fact, I’m willing to bet that he wouldn’t blink an eye at any of those after school groups crossing the line.

    Around here, if you argue against something like that, you’re trying to keep poor, black kids down. There’s a reason he went to the churches exclusively, he was selling; they’re all too eager to buy. They always are, aren’t they?

    This stinks even without the scandal the day after. Oh, and your link? Locally, they’re “affectionately” known as the Times Useless. They used to be a pretty good paper but they’re getting steadily more and more useless.

    Poke around their website at timesunion.com. There’s not much of value there except the local blogs. Right now, they’re their saving grace and the editor just moans about feel good stories and how the papers should be supported more, without doing anything to make his a little more, well, useful. Feel good stories on the front page aren’t. I’m not sure they even reported the money mismanagement and Fox had this story 4 days before them.

    Oh, and btw, this school has a major problem with violence. How about taking some action against that? Bet you dollars to doughnuts, this asshole principal thinks involving the churches is doing just that.

    But our governor is a dick! Cutting education and health care instead of expensive contractors, selling some of that artwork in the Empire State Plaza might just raise some funds, not to mention the Oriental carpet in his office. He’s itching to screw State employees any way he can. If he can’t get lay-offs (and he can’t) then he wants to ignore our contract and take away our negioated pay raise and if he can’t get that (and he can’t) he wants to institute a furlough. I’m holding my breath. Much as I’d love the time off, I can’t afford it and it would also adversely affect my pension. I seriously think he’s really fucking people over to throw a tantrum to get what he wants and while he’s throwing it people in the private sector and the Times Useless in particular aren’t noticing that payroll is only 17% of the State budget.

    Note that his re-election campaign ain’t hurting for dollars. Fortunately, he’s done everything to alienate 90% of the people in the State and doesn’t stand a chance in hell of being re-elected.

  • muggle

    I live about 30 minutes from there

    Mike, you do and you don’t think there’s strings attached? Been living here long?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I’m over in Schenectady, and I’ve been here fewer than three years, so I’m not completely in the loop :P

    Totally agree about the newspaper, by the way. I see so much kooky nonsense in there and other local papers that it makes my brain hurt. But I guess it seems that way everywhere these days; the editor of my hometown’s newspaper is a climate change and evolution denier who says that America needs to get back to Jesus before the sodomites ruin our Godly nation…

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    OH! And with regard to teachers getting screwed over… My mom’s a high school counselor in Michigan who is one among many currently being forced to decide between getting fired and teaching classes. The local school board is futzing around with political posturing bullshit, saying they need to cut costs by eliminating teachers and counselors, when the budget is well within a range to keep them from having to fire anyone; they’re just trying to push the teacher’s union into reopening contract negotiations and forcing them to take a pay cut to offset the aforementioned nonexistent budget shortcomings.

    As a result, my mom, who was planning to retire at the end of the year, will instead be retiring at the end of the semester because she doesn’t want to teach. This means that she’s only going to have 9.5 out of the 10 requisite years under her belt with the district to get a full retirement stipend and pension. In other words, she’s out over four grand just on the stipend, plus half a school year’s pay, plus a fully-vested retirement fund, all because some douchebags in the district administration want to show off how big their dicks are.

    And she’s only one of several. Some of the counselors are being forced to become teachers (instead of just being fired), and the teachers they’re replacing are out of a job at mid-semester, which will make it incredibly difficult for them to find well-paying work until the next school year. The counselors that remain will have a work load of around 800 students each, which is (to put it lightly) fucking unmanageable.

    Hooray for investing in the education of our nation’s future! *grumble grumble*

    (Completely unrelated, I know, but it doesn’t help that the local newspaper has taken the district’s side and literally refuses to accept any input from anyone pro-teacher. I’m trying everything I can do to get the word out about this in the hope that someone will be able to do something.)

  • Heidi

    Even before this story, I smelt a rat. Being the natural-born questioner of everything that I am, I immediately thought when the first story aired, why is he only going to the churches? Why didn’t he simply hold that press conference at the school and ask the community at large?

    I’ll tell you why in a nutshell, he only welcomes input from certain members of the community and I ain’t one of them. In fact, I’m willing to bet that he wouldn’t blink an eye at any of those after school groups crossing the line.

    Saw that coming a mile away. This is exactly why I said (and now repeat) that:

    I would have felt a lot better about this relationship if the principal had just put it out there in the community that they needed help, and the church had offered their resources.

    Thanks for the additional information, Muggle.

  • http://www.quietatheist.com Slugsie

    It seems to me that he approached the church officials in the capacity as figureheads of large organisations of people in the local area. Although he maybe shouldn’t have confined himself to just chruches, maybe local business bureaus too. As long as no strings are attached to the money that is raised then it should be fine. But yes, still slightly uneasy that such a situation was necessary in the first place. Is there a local Secular organisation that he could have approached too?

  • Peter

    There is nothing wrong with approaching a church, or multiple churches, in the local community for this sort of thing. Like it or not, they (the churches) are a part of the local community.

    So as long as the church(es) provide the donations out of the goodness of their hearts rather than stipulate some pro-whateverreligion agenda, there is nothing at all wrong with what the principal did.

    To be honest, I’m a little surprised (though not as much as I should be) that it would even be suggested that it was improper. As some of the other comments for this story seem to indicate there are a lot of people without outright hatred for the various churches.

    I don’t want to get too far off topic but personally I’ve just noticed a somewhat hypocritical trend in some atheists. Several posts on this website ask what about a certain message is an “attack” and while usually I agree that the message isn’t “attacking” anyone, there are times when its a little obvious that that is the goal.

  • Heidi

    Did you read Muggle’s post?

  • AMS

    I graduated from Albany High a couple of years ago, and can also say that the Albany churches expedited my becoming an atheist…

    First of all, I think the money could be better spent (better teachers and gang violence prevention, perhaps). I’m now at Cornell, home of $50k tuition and a multi-billion dollar endowment, where I haven’t seen a single SMARTboard, and my best professors haven’t even used PowerPoint slides. Just saying.

    Actually on topic, I would applaud his efforts in the case that McCalla (who is new to the district this year) manages to get money out of the local churches. Unfortunately, it likely will not happen, as the churches have recently undergone several mergers of parishes and schools due to budget cuts. And they most certainly don’t have SMARTboards themselves.

    Do I smell a rat? No. Albany is a community full of potential that’s so poorly coordinated that I can’t blame McCalla for going to the churches, who strangely enough have their act together. But I think it’s an odd avenue to pursue, especially before hitting up the local $5b nanotech complex. Any one of its member companies, who will continue to feed on local talent for employees, can blow a tax-deductible $.25m at the drop of a hat.

  • muggle

    Hey, Mike, neighbor. I’m in between Albany and Schenectady. No, not Colonie, anymore anyway. I’m in Guilderland and am finding it surprisingly likeable in part because it’s so diverse. We lived in Colonie (where I was born) for years and it’s snobby even though it’s nowhere near as upscale as friendly Guilderland.

    I see we agree on education! Do you love the governor as much as I do?

    Thanks, Heidi.

    Is there a local Secular organisation that he could have approached too?

    No, that doesn’t excuse it. AMS, the churches have their act together as an united front in pushing their credo. Never used to have endure so much religiousity at events at the Plaza, now we do. Gee, I wonder why. And I’m damned sick and tired of their being touted as the answer to gang violence. If you graduated from Albany High that recently, you know even better than I do that it ain’t working?

    Does anyone really believe that there’s no strings attached and that the principal didn’t want them? That he didn’t purposely sell the school’s soul to the churches?


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