SURREY â€” The Vancouver School District has rejected corporate funding that provided Surrey elementary classrooms with equipment for science projects.
In Surrey, 186 projects were funded with $200,000 raised through Fuel Your School, a Chevron program. In Vancouver, Chevron is offering up to $475,000 in the first year, but the school district has refused the offer.
Chevronâ€™s Fuel Your School program provides $1 for every person who buys 30 litres or more of gas in a district that is participating in the program, up to the maximum funding promised. The program is run at arms length through MyClassNeeds, a registered Canadian charity that serves as a crowdfunding tool for classroom projects.
VSB chairwoman Patti Bacchus said the school district doesnâ€™t enter into partnerships with corporations, and isnâ€™t set up to do so.
â€œWe donâ€™t generally as a district enter into any partnerships like that with corporate sponsors,â€ Bacchus said. â€œWe donâ€™t have a department or any staff that would be doing that kind of work. I understand Surrey does have a business development department that works on that.â€
â€œ(Donors) might be involved at (an individual) school level, but as a district we donâ€™t have the infrastructure to do that even if we wanted to.â€
She said she also has sustainability concerns.
â€œThe idea of raising money by encouraging people to buy gas at a time when weâ€™re really working on sustainability and getting kids to walk and bike to school, even that would be uncomfortable if we were in a position to enter into these agreements,â€ Bacchus said.
How do some districts handle corporate donations?
Vancouver: Not set up to accept corporate donations to the district, but individual schools do accept them.
Surrey: Has a business development department to handle corporate donations and district-wide fundraising.
North Vancouver: Does not have a business development department, however can receive corporate donations that meet certain policy criteria. The Board must be informed of donations of a significant amount.
Richmond: Does not have a business development department, however corporate donations are accepted and decided on a case-by-case basis by district staff and the board of education.
The Surrey School District has a business development department that is specifically tasked with raising money.
â€œThe department looks after facility rentals, grounds rentals and fundraising on a more structured, corporate level, like sponsorships,â€ said Doug Strachan, a spokesman for the Surrey school district. â€œThe department has been around at least 10 years and they pay for themselves many times over. They are so experienced and knowledgeable about these sorts of arrangements that it makes these things go more smoothly.â€
The business development department raised more than $2.4 million during the 12 months ended June 30, 2013, according to a report to the Surrey School Board. The total cost of the department was $180,514 for the same period, meaning a $2.2-million benefit to Surrey schools.
Strachan said the Chevron program went well in Surrey. He said no promotional materials were sent home, and no corporate logos appeared in classrooms.
â€œIt went very smoothly. Chevron and MyClassNeeds were great to work with on it,â€ Strachan said, adding that there were no complaints from anyone, and parents probably didnâ€™t even know that the Chevron charity had bought any supplies.
â€œOther than the signs on the pumps if they went to a Chevron service station in Surrey or White Rock, parents wouldnâ€™t even know it happened,â€ Strachan said.
Amy Coupal, chief executive officer at MyClassNeeds, said projects that meet the programâ€™s eligibility requirements are all approved in the order they are received, until the money runs out. The project focuses on science, technology, engineering and math projects, and Chevron has no influence over which projects are picked, Coupal said.
She said the Surrey project went well and that teachers have been â€œthrilledâ€ to receive the funds.
â€œThe projects ranged from iPads to salmon hatching kits to rocketry kits,â€ Coupal said. â€œWe received over 300 applications, and with the funds that were available we funded 186 projects. Weâ€™re still getting messages from teachers saying thank you.â€
The program provides the actual materials and sends them to the classrooms, Coupal said. Examples of the types of items that are eligible include classroom supplies such as musical instruments, science equipment or gardening equipment, software, technology such as tablets or cameras, and non-textbook print materials.
As well as administering the Chevron Fuel Your School program, the charity also allows teachers from across the country to post funding requests for classroom projects online, and then interested donors can fund programs through the charity.
Students in one classroom were aware of Chevronâ€™s involvement because Chevron and MyClassNeeds were invited to the classroom as a thank you. The visit was filmed and is now a promotional video for MyClassNeeds.
Chevron would like to continue the program in Surrey schools, but has not confirmed this with the school board yet. They are also seeking to expand the program to Vancouver. (Chevron Canadaâ€™s corporate headquarters are located in downtown Vancouver.)
â€œChevronâ€™s primary concern and rationale for the Fuel Your School program is to support education in the Vancouver school system in the areas of science, technology, math and engineering,â€ Chevron spokesman Adrien Byrne said. â€œWe offer this support to the Vancouver school board in the spirit of partnership and alongside respected Canadian educational charity MyClassNeeds Foundation. Chevron is seeking meaningful dialogue between the Vancouver school board, and its parents and teachers in order to make this school funding opportunity possible.â€
Bacchus is also concerned about a perception that a corporation could be having influence over which projects are picked for funding.
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s what theyâ€™re trying to do with this, but there is always that risk of perception. There are all kinds of reasons why we have to be fairly cautious of corporationsâ€™ involvement in schools,â€ Bacchus said.
She said the subject of corporate partnerships deserves a policy and a thorough conversation, something that the VSB has not had to this point.
â€œIt creates some real ethical challenges,â€ Bacchus said. â€œI think it raises a bigger discussion of how we fund schools. … If itâ€™s your local coffee shop hoping to help out with hotdog day, thatâ€™s one thing, but when we start getting multinationals that can be very strategic wanting to enter into fairly wide-reaching partnerships, I think we have to be cautious and have that discussion and have clear policy to guide that.â€
While the district doesnâ€™t partner with corporations, she said sometimes individual schools do.
â€œThere are lots of businesses and organizations and corporations who do provide grants and donations to schools. Most of those work really well,â€ she said.
For more stories from the Vancouver Sun, click here.