School district denies school chance for $24,000


March 22, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated March 21, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.

The Victoria school district denied a fundraiser that could have raised $24,000 for Victoria East High School athletics, claiming that it could not endorse a product.

Ford Motor Co. selected Victoria East to be part of a national fundraiser called Drive One 4 UR School. The program - which raised $5 million for thousands of schools nationwide - would have involved the Mac Haik auto dealership in Victoria and the East Titans Booster Club. Ford vehicles would be staged at the Victoria East parking lot and community members could stop in and drive the vehicles. The booster club would earn up to $6,000, depending on the number of test drives, and Mac Haik offered to double that amount.

"This is a very select program," said Alan Reilly, Mac Haik general manager.

As a separate part of the fundraiser, students would also shoot a short video about the event, which could add to their earnings and total $24,000, said Mike Pullin, vice president of the club.

Pullin was not speaking on behalf of the organization, he said, but the test drives would start in the Victoria East parking lot, so the club submitted a request to use the property in early February.

"We thought it was a no-brainer," he said. "No school had ever turned down the opportunity from Ford."

Ron Leach, chief operations officer for VISD, replied to an email from Pullin March 10 explaining the fundraiser would be denied for several reasons.

"(The) program only supports one high school," he wrote. "Could end up with 'haves and have nots' (similar to the perception which existed between (Victoria High School and Stroman students). We need to maintain equity for both high schools."

Additionally, the program likely involves advertising, he wrote.

"We don't want students or student programs involved in commercials or any form of advertising," he wrote.

Tuesday, Diane Boyett, district communication specialist, responded in a statement denying the district ever receiving any formal request, but did say there were verbal and email communications.

"Administration (ultimate authority rests with the superintendent) felt this was an implied endorsement of the Ford product by tying the school to the product," she wrote. "The administration feels the fundraiser was not appropriate in that it constituted a commercial use of school property and that the district had no formal proposal to consider."

Boyett said the logo of a sponsor/donor may be used as an acknowledgement of a donation or sponsorship.

"It is not the same thing as advertising," she said.

A Coca-Cola logo on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard, for instance, was allowed because the funds to purchase the board came through a contract in effect with the Coca-Cola distributor at the time, she wrote.

The district accepted a $900 donation in September for two athletic vehicles and has a history of purchases with Mac Haik, but the problem with the fundraiser, Boyett said, was its location.

"On school property, it has been denied," Boyett said.

Reilly said more people are likely to participate - meaning more money for the school - if the test drives are done on campus.

"They don't care where it's at, but you get more participation if it's at the school," he said.

He said he hopes to reschedule the event, which was originally planned for Saturday.

Parents, outraged about the district's denial, plan to attend Thursday's board meeting to express opinions.

"It's not right," said Kathy Moore, who is part of the club. "You're turning down free money in a time when all you're doing is cutting school budgets."



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