Students at Gatineau school asked to raise $20K for desks and chairs

A Gatineau, Que., elementary school is asking its students to sell chocolate bars to pay for desks and chairs, but the school board says it wasn't their decision.

School board says fundraiser for desks and chairs against board policy

Mathieu Larocque, whose two children attend École de l'Odyssée, says he was shocked to learn this year's chocolate bar fundraiser would raise money for desks and chairs. (CBC)

Eight-year-old Emma Larocque came home from school this week with her school's annual request to sell chocolate bars to help raise money for her school.

This year, that request asked students to go door to door to raise $20,000 for items such as educational materials, desks and chairs — a provision that left her father, Mathieu Larocque, feeling shocked.

I find it pathetic that we have to go out [on] the street to sell chocolate bars to buy chairs and desks.- Mathieu Larocque , parent at  École  de l'Odyssée  in  Gatineau

"I know there's been lots of cuts in the system over the last year, and I guess that's where we're at," said Larocque, who has two children attending  École de l'Odyssée in Gatineau, Que.

"But still, I find it pathetic that we have to go out [on] the street to sell chocolate bars to buy chairs and desks," he added.

The French-language note sent home with children said the fundraising project is aimed at making the school "more stimulating for the development of our students."

It said that this year, the money will be put toward educational and cultural activities, educational material and furniture for students — specifically desks and chairs.

'It's a mistake'

Schools, however, are not supposed to fundraise for essential school items like desks and educational materials, according to Claude Beaulieu, chair of Commission scolaire des Draveurs, the school board that oversees École de l'Odyssée.

It's against the board's policy to raise money for anything but activities outside the general curriculum, Beaulieu said.

"It's a mistake, and we're going to send a communication to parents," he said.

Note home to parents says 2016 fundraiser will be focused on enhancing "educational and cultural activities, educational material, and furniture for students (desks and chairs.) (Mathieu Larocque)

Beaulieu said school communities have to explain why the shortfall for these basic items exists, and he added that appropriate funds should be made available.

Decisions over school fundraising campaigns at École de l'Odyssée are made by a governing body consisting of parents and school staff.

Martin LaHaie was a member of that governing body last year and told CBC News he's surprised the school board is expressing those concerns.

Similar fundraising in recent years

Last year, the pamphlet sent home to parents may have been less explicit, but parents and their children knowingly raised money that went to purchasing new chairs, said LaHaie.

According to the fundraising note from last year provided to CBC, students were asked to fundraise $6,000 for 170 chairs.

LaHaie said many of the chairs at the school had long been in disrepair, with some dating to the opening day of the school decades earlier.

The money also went toward buying textbooks, including math texts that were falling apart, said LaHaie.

'Incredibly sad'

And the 2014-15 academic year wasn't the first year students were asked to buy basic items for classrooms, said LaHaie. During a meeting last spring with the school board — one that included parents from other governing boards — participants raised serious concerns about the lack of funding of such essentials, he added.

That reality is "incredibly sad," said Claude Tardif, head of Syndicat de l'enseignement de l'Outaouais, the union representing the school board's teachers.

Desks and math books are not extras, he said.

"This is where the government cutbacks have left us," said Tardif.

As for Larocque, he said he doesn't blame the school for the request his daughter Emma received — he blames the provincial government instead.

"What I blame is just the state of funding of the school system in my province," he said.