A sophomore comes up to Student Council adviser Valerie Velo, confused about a $25 fee for Winter Ball on Feb. 2. 

“Do I have to pay?” she asks. “I’m part of Cav Club.” 

Valerie says she has to, but the change comes as a surprise to many others. 

That’s new this year.

Former Parents’ Association (PA) head Lindsey Sackheim created Cavalier Club (Cav Club) as a membership program for students and parents willing to pay a yearly $150 fee in exchange for free entrance to almost every on-campus activity. 

A Cav Club membership waived $25 dance fees, paid for access to the Fall Family Festival and got students free spirit gear at the beginning of the year.

But at the end of the 2017-18 school year, PA co-presidents Lainie Josephson and Michelle Kessel-Harbart approached the administration with a plan to dissolve Cav Club. 

The PA co-presidents convinced head of school Lee Thomsen, he said. 

“Cav Club felt like one more ask of parents,” Thomsen said. “Schools suggest that if you charge tuition and have an annual fund and the auction, you don’t need another paid program. 

“You don’t want to ask people for $20 here and $100 there.”

But according to Josephson, saving parents from paying extraneous prices wasn’t her original goal.

Josephson said eliminating Cav Club happened “organically” after the co-presidents read articles from the National Association of Independent Schools about “guidelines to ‘friendraising.’”

“So many schools were going that direction,” Josephson said. “There are two types of ‘raising’: fundraising — raising money — or ‘friendraising’ — building a tighter community. 

“We loved ‘friendraising.’ It felt a lot more comfortable for us, as it helps get more people involved in our kids’ school.” 

Eliminating Cav Club encouraged more parents to volunteer at school events, she continued. 

“Cav Club was slightly tedious because it’d be hard to get long-term volunteers to be in charge of it,” Josephson said. “We didn’t want to nickel-and-dime parents. There were 400-ish families who signed up and needed paperwork that volunteers had to go through, 400 T-shirts to give out — we just couldn’t find a volunteer to take it on.

“It was also important to us to make volunteering fun.” 

But now, she said, with a greater focus on “friendraising” instead of fundraising, more parents across the lower, middle and high school divisions are volunteering. 

“‘Friendraising’ is a great way to start building our community and get to know families all throughout the divisions,” she said.  

“Cross-divisionally it’s so nice to see lower school, middle school and high school parents work together for the common good. For lower school Back-to-School night, we had high school and middle school parents coming to help out.”

However, benefits of Cav Club’s elimination don’t end with greater “friendraising” opportunities. According to director of annual fund Amy Nelson Wells, ’98, it smoothed things out. 

“It was a nightmare at the door, with everyone trying to figure out who was in Cav Club and who wasn’t,” Wells said. 

Now, parents don’t pay an additional fee for an events pass. All middle school and high school events are paid for by the school via the school-funded PA budget; off-campus high school dances and league games are paid for individually.

And according to Thomsen, the school is paying a bit as well.

“We wanted to take the number that the PA gave us for their budget the last three or four years — around $30,000 annually — and look at it within the context of our $10 million budget,” Thomsen said. “It isn’t a lot of money in comparison.”

Disbanding Cav Club led to other unexpected positive benefits, according to director of advancement Rachelle Doyle. 

“In most schools, their PA is part of the same 501(c)(3),” Doyle said of the tax-exempt status granted by the Internal Revenue Service to nonprofit organizations. “Our PA used to be their own 501(c)(3) — their own nonprofit that filed their own taxes and had a separate accounting form. 

“They didn’t want to do as much independent fundraising, and being separate made it more difficult in terms of leadership.”

With Cav Club’s elimination, the PA is now under the same 501(c)(3) as the rest of the school. 

“Now we don’t have to file our own tax returns, pay for our own tax accountants or carry and pay for our own liability insurance when putting on events,” Josephson said. 

But being under the same 501(c)(3) nonprofit doesn’t mean the school controls the PA.

“We are very autonomous,” Josephson said. “When we make decisions, we make them on behalf of the parents. The school isn’t telling us what things to do or how to run things or what events to plan.”

And according to Thomsen, the PA’s process for paying for events hasn’t changed. 

For example, he said, events such as Fall Family Festival and Holiday Gift-Making were already partially funded by the school, and the excess was covered by the event coordinator out-of-pocket as a donation to the school. 

The funding for high school dances hasn’t changed much either, Velo and former Student Council adviser Patricia Jacobsen said. 

In each case, the PA would partially refund Student Council. 

“Every attendee who was on Cav Club would be on a list,” Jacobsen explained. “I’d tell the PA we had 82 Cav Club members go to the dance, and then the PA deposited funds for those many kids into the Student Council account.”

And sometimes, the PA would donate additional funds via this system. 

“The PA was always very generous,” Jacobsen said. 

For instance, all dance tickets have a regular price for those who pay at school and an “at-the-door price” — typically $5 more. 

According to Jacobsen, the PA would always refund Student Council with the “at-the-door price.” 

“In the last year or two, we got a couple hundred extra bucks,” Jacobsen said. “They stopped asking me to count how many people went to the dance and would pay for however many kids were on Cav Club.” 

Now, Velo said, the PA donates “a good chunk of money” to the Student Council budget. 

Velo said she gives the PA a list of the money spent, and it determines how much to fund based on how much is needed.

Regardless of whether Cav Club exists, prom is never included, as the cost varies too much — from $5,000 to $12,000 depending on location — according to Jacobsen. 

And removing Cav Club has been beneficial for students as well. 

Head of high school Brooke Wells said that since Student Council is now directly funded by the school instead of having to go through a third-party fund supported by the PA — Cav Club — dances are cheaper. 

This year’s Winter Ball cost $20 in advance or $25 at the door; 2016’s Winter Ball was free for Cav Club members but $40 in advance or $50 at the door.

However, it hasn’t proven beneficial for all this school year.

“It’s a lot easier for me as a parent to have everyone be on Cav Club,” Jacobsen said. “At the beginning of the year, I’d sign my daughter up, she got a T-shirt, and I didn’t have to buy spirit gear.

“It was like one-stop shopping instead of having to remember my checkbook. I know how things work behind the scenes. 

“I knew that even if I paid $150, it’d be going to a good cause for the students.”

By Chardonnay Needler

Originally published in the Feb. 12 edition of the Octagon.

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