If parents want odyssey, let them pay

Monday, April 27, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This column started out as a story about local students winning a chance to compete in a prestigious academic competition.

Along the way, I fell into a story about money and the enthusiasm of well-meaning adults.

The seven students are fourth- and fifth-graders at Summit Elementary School in the Forest Hills School District.

Their proud principal, who's also one of the students' mom, called me last week to say they had won the state level of the Odyssey of the Mind competition. Now, the school's team could compete at the Odyssey of the Mind Association's World Finals next month at Walt Disney World.

"But there's a rub," Principal Peggy Barns said: To go they needed to raise $17,234.

Newspapers frequently get calls like this. A class or a school needs help raising money for a good cause. I thought this sounded like a good one, too.

But, that $17,234 figure stopped me. I wondered why any contest would expect an elementary school to have that kind of dough on hand. I asked the Summit team's parents for a breakdown of the figure. It showed expenses for seven children and 14 adults, including three coaches. Two adults per child struck me as excessive.

Now I seemed to have a story about too many proud parents asking for too much.

Great achievement

The prize-winning team, The Main Members, consists of Scott Barns, Emily Beiting, Brian Oliveria, Stephanie Merchant, David Portman, Andrew Rudick and Chris Yantek. I met them Friday. These are smart, sweet kids, and evidence of what is right with schools today.

Their winning entry centers on a homemade 8 1/2-inch tower made of balsa wood. It weighs a shade under a half ounce. The team had to camouflage the structure, perform an original skit and then test the structure's strength. The tower they built held 825 pounds -- more than the Main Members' combined weight.

Great kids. Wonderful project. Proud parents.

Same for three other area teams honored at the state level. Mason High School, Little Miami Junior High School and Lakota Ridge Junior High School also are sending teams to the Odyssey finals.

But then we come back to Summit and the money.

Should Summit expect people to pay for two adults per child? At Mason and Lakota, parents are paying for their children's fares. At Little Miami, the school board is paying for the team and its coach. If parents at Mason, Lakota and Little Miami want to go to the finals, they're on their own.

When asked, Peggy Barns said they could cut back. "We could go with a bare minimum of seven adults, including the three coaches."

That plan, with the school's PTA pledging $1,000, still leaves $10,886 to be raised in a month.

First off, let me say I am sorry I could not just endorse and publicize a $17,234 fund-raiser. I think the kids and their parents deserve the best for all they've accomplished.

And the seven kids I met from Summit have their hearts set on going to Disney World.

"We're representing our state," said Emily Beiting. "We want everybody to be proud of us."

But when school officials or parents go hat in hand to the public, they have to think things through.

Chaperoning trips, at most schools, is a donation. So, the Summit parents need to pay up. If they do, they're left with a goal of raising $7,830 for the team and coaches.

Again, I am not criticizing anyone associated with this effort. And, I know the hard-working people who send their kids to Summit are not made of money. I just think they need to reconsider their approach.

I wish contests covered winners' trips. I wish all parents had rich aunts.

But what I'm left with are some smart kids and their coaches who deserve their moment at a world finals. To help them and any of the other teams trying to get to Disney World, call the respective schools. As for the other adults, I hope they find the money to enjoy the event.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.