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Big Money, Bigger Concerns Over Students Selling For Schools

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RALEIGH — Whether you have children or not, you know the joyandpain of school fundraising. Kids selling candy, magazines and gift wrap add up to big bucks for local schools. Critics say fundraisers are turning children into sales people, and they want it to stop.

Students fromFox Road Elementarysold stacks of gift wrap, candy and other goodies this fall. They rang up sales totaling thousands of dollars. Fundraisers like this are big business for local PTAs and the companies they work with.

"First of all, it's a matter of process, of figuring out which company is going to offer us the best," explains Fox Road parent Debra Horton. "And we go through that process withour PTA board, then we pick a company, we sign contracts with them and then we start selling."

Wake County PTA President Lillian Stroupe says schools that involve kids in direct sales have their priorities wrong.

"I wish that we cold find a way to have more parents spend more of their time lobbying proper funding sources," says Stroupe.

Stroupe is the first to point out that the money PTAs earn helps pay for programs, like a computer lab at Fox Road. But critics say, too often, fundraisers turn young children into salesmen.

Bradley sold $347 worth of candy and gift wrap.

"I just walked around the neighborhood with my sister helping," says the Fox Road Elementary student.

Schools discourage students from selling door-to-door, although it sometimes happens anyway. Wake County PTA policy forbids it.

"Children just don't always possess judgment that is indicative of putting yourself in unknown situations," says Stroupe.

The PTA encourages students to sell to people they know instead. Many children turn to family and friends to pick up the tab. But the burden of selling all of this merchandise often falls on mom and dad. Reba Broadhurst hit up her co-workers.

"I've taken some of the fundraising material to work and go my co-workers to say, 'Please help my PTA Association,' and they did."

Wake County PTA chapters raised $3 million last year. When you're dealing with numbers that big, there's potential for abuse. Lamont Scott Preston, a Wake County parent, is accused of embezzling from his children's school fundraiser.

"It is really frightening, now that PTAs, particularly in Wake County, North Carolina, are working with huge sums of money with very few requirements of them," says Stroupe.

The Wake County PTA has no control over fundraising at individual schools. But they are encouraging parents to move away from direct sales and toward other projects, like theRootin' Tootin'Fall Festival atRoot Elementary. Students sold raffle tickets at $1 a piece -- 26,000 of them.

But the focus is on the festival.

"It brings everybody together," says Root Elementary parent Jackie Abbott. "And tonight, it's a family night at school. When I was a little girl, you used to go out to your school for a nice, fun carnival."

Root Elementary school will also earn thousands of dollars by raffling off donated items. But this fundraiser doesn't involve a single child knocking on a single door.

More and more schools are choosing to raise money this way. PTA officials know parents will always want to help improve their schools. They encourage parents to demand more funding from the legislature so that PTAs can get out of the money raising business.

PTA officials believe the organization will change its bylaws soon so it can regulate fundraising activities.