Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools can apply for up to $5,000 in grants this month from the PTA Thrift Shop, as the nonprofit rethinks how it supports local education.
Limited to one per school, the impact grants go to projects with “measurable results,” says Barbara Jessie-Black, executive director of the PTA Thrift Shop.
The grants mark a significant change in how the thrift shop, which started in 1952, helps fund school programs. In 2015, the first year for the impact grants, the Thrift Shop awarded $10,000 to local schools. This was in addition to its annual distribution to school PTAs, which totaled $85,000.
While the annual distributions are unrestricted, meaning the money can be used for any educational purpose, Jessie-Black said impact grants are for specific areas: arts and/or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, supplies and programs for underserved students. Four to six schools will be selected. The application period closes Jan. 31. Information is available at http://www.ptathriftshop.org
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Because of changes in its own financial obligations – paying off debt on the reconstruction of its Carrboro store and headquarters, for example – the thrift shop contributes significantly less money to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTAs in its annual allocation.
It also has changed the formula for those donations, which will now be based on students qualifying for free and reduced lunch and total student enrollment per school.
“In order to be sustainable, we have to take the long view,” Jessie-Black said.
In 2010-11, the Thrift Shop contributed more than $215,000 to a total of 17 elementary, middle and high school PTAs, according to federal tax returns. The shop generated $1.4 million in gross revenue, including sales and grants.
However, the funding was uneven, based on a formula that pegged money to the number of volunteer hours at PTA provided. This system had the potential to create funding inequities, especially between high schools and elementary schools, and for less affluent schools where low-income parents may not have had time to donate hours.
That year, for example, Chapel Hill High received more than $30,000 and East Chapel Hill High, $25,000, compared to Ephesus Elementary which received $7,500 and Carrboro Elementary, $7,600.
Then in the 2012-13 school year, the Carrboro shop closed while it was demolished and then rebuilt. Revenues, largely from the Chapel Hill store, dropped to $1.1 million. Grant totals were reduced to $30,000, with each high school receiving $3,000. Middle schools got $2,000 each, and elementary schools, $1,000.
In response, the PTAs have started new fundraising ventures or cut their budgets to fill the gap. “We foresaw it, and we weren’t hurt by it,” said Emily Martine, president of the Carrboro High School PTA. “We treated what ever we got as a bonus.”
Rather than fundraise, the PTA opted to trim its budget, eliminating several scholarships that were not need-based. That money went toward items such as classroom supplies, books and registration fees for the Science Olympiad. “We’re not feeling the pain much,” Martine said. “I think we’re fine. We could have a fundraiser, but we try not to ask parents for too much.”
After the thrift shop reopened in December 2013, the PTA dollars became scarcer. In 2013–14, the shop allocated a total of $4,000, most of it, $3,000 to Pace Academy, a public charter school for children with special needs. The state subsequently closed Pace over questions about its student performance, management and finances.
‘A challenge for us’
The shop’s first year in the new space “was a challenge for us,” Jessie-Black said, as customers became reacquainted with the space. The gross revenues totaled $1.37 million, buoyed by the Chapel Hill location.
In addition to store sales, the shop is generating money from leasing two floors in the new building and space in two additional buildings across the parking lot.
As the shop’s finances have rebounded, schools are receiving an annual distribution, in addition to potential impact grants.
“We’re working our way back up” to annual distribution amounts that occurred before the new building, Jessie-Black said. “Our goal is for it to be more,” she said.
Laura Malinchock, president of the Chapel Hill High School PTA, says the lack of thrift shop funding has actually created new opportunities to assist students and teachers. A carnival helps student clubs raise money for their activities, while acquainting elementary and middle school students with the high school
With the thrift shop money the PTA might receive, Malinchock said, “We report back to them on how we used the funds. We want to tell the impactful ways we’ve used the money.”