With Arizona school districts cutting back on supplies, staffing and budgets, parents at Chandler High School are stepping up to fill in the gaps.
Parents of marching band members came up with the idea to do a "penny war," where the different band instrument groups - winds, brass, percussion - try to outdo each other by collecting pennies.
Band parents are also manning the concession stand at games so the school won't have to hire concession workers. And, they're looking for ways to raise money for new instruments.
It's all part of a growing trend in school districts around the East Valley as parents pitch in a little more this year because their schools have less money to spend. Declines in general fund coffers resulted in $133 million cut from school districts in January. District officials worry another mid-year cut might be coming, despite the budgets they've been given from lawmakers to date. Many are holding back on expenditures in anticipation of that event.
As a result, at least one school is asking parents or guardians to spend two hours a semester helping on campus. Others are asking parents to buy reams of paper to offset supply cuts.
At Chandler High, band booster president George Mendez said, "We've had to ask parents to help step into fundraising, which is not a fun thing to do when we're all strapped for cash and the economic situations as they are now."
In order to run the concession stand at home football games, the Chandler parents were required to get food handler licenses. In one night, 50 to 60 parents all went out and took that test together, so they could use all funds raised at games to benefit the band, rather than paying someone an hourly fee to sell hot dogs and soda.
The funds are needed for students who cannot come up with all the fees needed to participate, such as money for travel, band uniform cleaning and T-shirts.
Mendez said the group also would like to raise money for new instruments.
This year, about 15 to 20 students were turned away from participating in band "because many of our instruments are falling apart. They're not in good shape or the repairs are as much as buying a new instrument," Mendez said. "When the economy turns better, we would like to do some specific fundraising ... for the instruments."
The Gilbert Unified School District is starting a committee to find ways to encourage more volunteers in the district. District officials realize there's a greater need now for volunteers because of state budget cuts, said spokeswoman Dianne Bowers, who gave a presentation to the school board on Tuesday.
With larger class sizes and fewer student aides, more assistance is needed from volunteers, Bowers said.
"There's a greater need for highly skilled subject area tutors," Bowers said. "The fundraising paradigm is also shifting from those extra items to essentials."
With five children, Virginia McEnany has long been a presence at Mesa's Adams Elementary School.
Her two youngest children are students there this year, and McEnany is still volunteering.
But this year, she saw a bigger need. With budget cuts, there are fewer aides doing simple things like making photocopies for the teachers.
So McEnany took on the job.
"I do my part by going to school and helping an hour a day during the lunch time," she said. "I see that the teachers don't have aides all day long. I think this will help so they're not wasting time to make copies for the tests ... To me it's not a lot, but for them they're so grateful. I didn't know that would make them so happy, to just go do copies."
Debra deFisser, co-president of the parent group at Gilbert's Val Vista Lakes Elementary school, said parents are being asked to not only bring in paper, but items like hand sanitizer.
"We are going through that like crazy, especially with the flu ... going around," she said. "We anticipate we will probably need to use some of our budget for that or ask parents to contribute in some way."
DeFisser said the group also started the "Give 2: Your school needs you" campaign, seeking parent volunteers either on campus or doing work at home.
"We've had a lot of good response," she said. "There are longer lists of volunteers to help in the cafeteria at lunch time. We have a larger list to pull from, and people can pick and choose" how they want to help.
Beth Cohen, a parent at Mesa's Canyon Rim Elementary School in the Gilbert district, said her group is trying to give more support and show more appreciation to teachers.
"We're trying to give back a lot to the teachers this year," she said. "We decided that because of the budget cuts. And we feel class sizes are so big and so much burden is placed on the teachers."
When school started, all members of the Canyon Rim teaching staff received paper and two packs of dry-erase markers.
Parents recognize there are more needs at the schools, said Lou Perdoni, principal at Mesa's Alma Elementary School.
"We have had more parents step forward and say, 'What can I give you for the classroom? Do you need Xerox paper? Do you need hand sanitizer?' They realize the budgets are tight."
School arts programs are feeling the pinch.
Gilbert's Highland High School band is not traveling to away games this year because of budget cuts, said mom Maureen Allison.
At Gilbert's Patterson Elementary School - where art, music and physical education for kindergarten students were cut - parent volunteers are teaching music once a week.
"We're known for our music," said mom and volunteer Shellie Gibson. "We didn't want our kindergartners to not have the opportunities to begin their music time."
Tribune reporter Hayley Ringle contributed to this story.