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01/08/01 . Julia Baird, Education Writer . Sydney Morning Herald . Australia  
McSchool: how good burghers raise funds  

Hamburger chain McDonald's has gained a strong foothold in State schools by offering cheap cheeseburgers, school deliveries and a cut of profits to parents and citizens' associations that send diners to its outlets.

McDonald's is among a growing number of companies exploiting a lack of funding in NSW primary schools by offering cash or services in exchange for access to the schools.

A Herald investigation of 90 primary schools has revealed McDonald's is joined by Mars Confectionery, Golden Circle, Sydney Flight Centre, fireworks companies and others which help parents with fundraising.

The P&C at Marsden Park has been raising funds for a shelter through trips to McDonald's, as well as chocolate drives and pie days. The McDonald's at Padstow organises about 50 events a year with more than 10 local primary schools. The schools take 25 per cent of the profits at "fun nights", when students and parents go to McDonald's to eat and socialise. They can have their faces painted on some weeknights.

There are also cheeseburger days, when McDonald's delivers lunch to schools. McDonald's charges about $1.60 per cheeseburger and throws in a free drink, although it is understood fries are not included because they go soggy. The school can then raise the price - usually to about $2.50 - and take the profit.

The Education Minister, Mr Aquilina, said he encouraged schools, in consultation with their local communities, to develop partnerships with private companies - as long as they did not breach the Education Department's guidelines on sponsorship.

"The department has no corporate relationship with McDonald's but schools at a local level can make their own decision about whether to undertake a partnership with local franchises, just as they make a partnership with their local bakery for lamingtons," he said.

But he added: "I would frown on any sponsorship that would promote direct advertising that targets students in schools. I don't want to see schools turned into a local marketplace."

But the marketing push has been made possible by a reluctant softening of P&Cs' attitude to company involvement in schools.

The president of the Federation of the NSW P&C Associations, Ms Bev Baker, said if eating at McDonald's generated funds for under-resourced schools, it was a good thing.

"Given the fact that teenagers have no taste and teenagers go to McDonald's a lot, and the food is designed to go to children, it's a positive approach of McDonald's to give the money back to schools where we try to undo bad eating habits," she said. "P&Cs may as well make a return from the junk."

She added that P&Cs were autonomous organisations which were not bound by departmental guidelines or directives.

The manager of Beacon Hill McDonald's, Mr Michael Brown, said it gave out about 1,000 encouragement awards each year to local primary schools. "A teacher fills one out if a kid does a good job, and they get a cheeseburger voucher with it."

It also runs competitions with the local Harvey Norman store. Students colour in a McDonald's picture and the winner gets a computer. Then there's Reading with Ronald: if students can prove they have read five books, they get free meals.

In 1993, teachers and parents condemned the Education Department when it announced McDonald's would sponsor an $800,000 school sport program.

The then managing director of McDonald's Australia, Mr Charlie Bell, said "the sponsorship does not in any way even touch on the provision of food or vouchers by McDonald's, nor is this intended".

But yesterday, a spokeswoman for McDonald's confirmed its marketing strategy extended into primary schools through the fun nights, lunch days, vouchers and Reading with Ronald.

"We want to be involved in supporting the local community," she said.

Department guidelines say schools can only negotiate sponsorship with "reputable organisations whose public image, products and services are consistent with the values, goals and specific policies of public education". They should ensure they are acceptable to the community.  
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