Despite an audience full of dissenting parents on Wednesday evening and a dozen letters to the contrary, Central Okanagan school trustees opted to suspend their corporate naming policy and put up a plaque acknowledging the Kelowna Rotary Club’s contribution to a school project.
The service club had told the school district it would not give them a $50,000 donation toward a $300,000 building for teen moms unless the club could have a plaque recognizing its contribution.
The school district has a policy explicitly banning corporate sponsors from such advertising and branding privileges, which the service club was made aware of, but the Rotarians refused to back down.
“Suspending our policy is showing our children we can be bought and so can they,” trustee Anna Hunt-Binkley said as she tried to persuade fellow trustees not to accept the donation.
Hunt-Binkley argued the club is as much a business networking organization as it is a philanthropic one and that it effectively acts as a professional fundraising organization.
It offers businesses a very good means of establishing their names in the community, she said, while noting that schools are sanctuaries of learning where the school district’s policy had already decided corporate branding does not have a place.
At a previous meeting, she told the board of education there are also various values attached to service clubs which the board might not agree with, like alliances with Christianity or men-only requirements.
“To have one service club out of many which have supported this district over the years acknowledged because they have $50,000 dangling in front of our heads is not acceptable,” she said.
Hunt-Binkley was joined by trustees Jeff Watson and Moyra Baxter, who both stated they would prefer to see the policy—in place for roughly a dozen years—reviewed. In a final vote, however, they were outvoted by a 4-3 count in favour of the plaque request.
The list of parents who had written the board largely asked for such a review of the policy to take place, rather than an ad hoc decision to suspend the policy on a one-time basis.
One parent told the board a meeting of the Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council had been called and representatives from 15 schools indicated they did not want the school district to roll over on the issue.
One of the more poignant letters explaining the naysayers’ viewpoint came from Disney Online Studios Kids Helping Kids manager Nicole Rustad, who works in corporate philanthropy.
She encouraged the board to stick to its guns, noting that while the service club’s initial offer was admirable, the expectation that one organization should be given special consideration over all others was “unreasonable.”
She also noted direct marketing to children and youth through philanthropy should be avoided.
Baxter said what ultimately shaped her decision was the history of such stakeholder intervention.
Having been around when the policy was originally drafted, Baxter recalled the considerable effort parents, teachers and other “education partner groups,” as the board calls them, put into the document.
“I think it’s far too easy to suspend policy on a one-time basis,” she said, noting she was also offended by the brazen attitude of the club.
“…I don’t see how there was no pressure put on us. We were told, either you suspend the policy or you won’t get the money.”
Baxter said she believed the discussion was only taking place because of the size of the donation, saying she didn’t feel one donor should be stacked against another who could only offer a smaller amount.
On the other side of the fence, trustees Gail Given and Gail Scanlan argued that service clubs should be treated differently than businesses.
“Service recognition is something we should promote with our kids and not be afraid of,” said Given.
She pointed out many things have changed since the policy was developed, noting Facebook didn’t even exist at the time and that the board should be showing kids what is and is not appropriate when it comes to advertising influence.
Big corporate logos in schools, she said, would be an example of what is not appropriate and something she would not want to see.
Scanlan added to the argument saying policies are something to be updated and changed, and that she too sees a difference between corporate sponsors and service clubs.
For his part, trustee Wayne Horning said he did not see any pressure whatsoever, noting the club had given the district three options—to put up the plaque and exempt the donation from the policy, to amend the policy or to turn down the funds.
Horning noted that earlier this year, the board of education approved a slush-fund to ensure the building would be built with or without fundraising dollars in place, meaning the Rotary plaque decision, either way, would have had no bearing on the teen mom program’s new home at Kelowna Secondary School.
Only one parent came out in support of accepting the funds.
Telling the trustees her children go to Chute Lake Elementary School where such funding constraints will likely never be an issue as the teachers themselves characterize the new school as “Disneyland,” Yvette Moore argued the district should be taking the money just as parents take their children to play in Rotary parks.
Another visibly annoyed parent said he would encourage parents to send their kids to private school.
The board of education has also opted to review its policy with input from interested parties.