Those who make their living soliciting donations on behalf of charities, colleges and other nonprofits are occasionally asked by outsiders whether asking for contributions from the rich ever becomes tiresome. Doesn't it amount to begging in better dress?
The answer is no, because their job is not so much to tug at heartstrings as to make people happy. Signing that check is a thrill when a donor realizes how much it's going to help those who need it. As the purse is emptied the heart is filled, a happy circumstance that Victor Hugo observed more than a century ago.
It's also a lesson that members of the Harford County Board of Education might take to heart if they plan to make it a permanent policy to refuse large donations from
Recently, the school board decided not to go along with Superintendent Robert Tomback's recommendation to accept a $20,000 donation from E.J. and
Why refuse such generosity? It came with the expectation that the facility would be named "Henderson Field," and board members expressed misgivings about setting a field-naming policy. One member likened it to selling naming rights. Others were likely uncomfortable because a previous school board last year declined to allow Fallston High School to name a field after a former student and football team captain who died in military service in Iraq.
That Erin Henderson two years ago failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs and was suspended by the NFL for four games was also brought up.
But why all the fuss? Why does it require school board action at all? Why not leave the matter of how to raise money for a new football scoreboard, or even what to name a field, up to the principal at Aberdeen, who could act in consultation with faculty and parents?
School boards have a natural tendency to want to set blanket policies that can address every situation. Their expectation is that an absolute rule — no naming of fields, for example — will prevent controversy, legal challenges or other unforeseen problems down the road. It is the bureaucrat's way of looking at the world: Consistency, consistency, consistency above all else.
There is a place for that. We would have concerns if the Hendersons were offering to change the curriculum or to affect the student-teacher ratio. Those involve the core mission of schools, and the board would rightly object to students at one county school ending up with greater resources in the classroom than those in another.
But scoreboards are an extra, an indulgence, a fun accessory that thrills athletes and their supporters but doesn't change educational outcomes or even provide a competitive advantage to the home team. It's the kind of thing that's usually financed by big soft drink companies and school boosters. Even with the $20,000, advocates for the new scoreboard would need to solicit more than $30,000 in private donations to cover its cost.
Aberdeen High is rightfully proud that the Hendersons attended. Why not encourage a continuing relationship with the family? Incidentally, the football stadium is just a home run away from Aberdeen High's baseball field, named after another famous resident,
The school board is certainly welcome to draft a policy on naming sports facilities — if its members truly have nothing better to do with their time. But until that happens, the board should keep an open mind and give schools some autonomy. Such donations ought to be encouraged, if possible, particularly at a time of scarce resources.