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Now, to another slightly less controversial way; parents and even teachers are trying to tackle the challenges of budget cuts.

The era of the humble bake sale is effectively over. Today, many schools are raising funds by mounting big money auctions; black tie events that in some districts can raise thousands, even hundreds of thousands of extra dollars.

Our producer Lauren Silverman went to one of those auctions here in Washington, D.C.

Unidentified Man: Everybody raise their bidder number so we can see them. You have a bidder number when you're ready to take a...

LAUREN SILVERMAN: At John Eaton Elementary, the school fundraiser has gotten a facelift. John Eaton principal Jacqueline Gartrell describes this scene.

Ms. JACQUELINE GARTRELL (Principal, John Eaton Elementary): Lots and lots of very organized, beautiful tables where people can bid on items from a limo ride with the principal to pearl jewelry, trips to Mexico, all kinds of wonderful things, something for everybody.

SILVERMAN: There's even a dental exam, Brazilian style soccer lessons and wine tasting in Virginia.

Mr. DANIEL DOMENECH (Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators): This is not your grandmother's bake sale anymore.

SILVERMAN: That's Daniel Domenech. He's the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

Mr. DOMENECH: It's really reached a level of sophistication that was unprecedented in terms of fundraising. We now have many school systems around the country that have developed foundations. There is a national association for school foundations. And these foundations raise, in some cases, millions of dollars.

(Soundbite of music)

SILVERMAN: Between bites of bruschetta and chocolate-dipped strawberries, two moms at the auction stopped to chat with me.

How much planning did it require?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROBINSON-OGBEBOR: It's more than big wedding.

Ms. JACKIE JONES: (Unintelligible).

Ms. ROBINSON-OGBEBOR: It's something I would never sign up for again. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SILVERMAN: But Karen Robinson-Ogbebor and Jackie Jones are willing to stay up late making catalogs and finding a jazz band because the extra money means their kids get a music teacher, an art teacher and supplies.

Mr. ROBINSON-OGBEBOR: Things for the bulletin boards or cotton balls and paper bags, and, you know, they're always needing stuff like that. And we recently got a new playground, so there are a lot of little things that need to be added to the playground...

SILVERMAN: Across the country in San Ramon, California, elementary school principal Sharon Keaton is wrapping up her third auction of the year. And the stakes are high.

Ms. SHARON KEETON: It's the librarian, all the art programs, all the computer instruction and reading intervention, math intervention, additional help in the classroom from classroom aids. Those are all paid for by this fundraising.

SILVERMAN: These are professional operations. Auctioneer Lynne Zink has held almost a dozen school auctions in the Mid-Atlantic area this season alone. She sold parking spots for 9,000 bucks a piece, a South African photo safari for 3,500 and tickets to the BET Awards with a walk on the red carpet for more than $3,000. And Zink says for an auctioneer, school benefits require a different approach than gallery auctions.

Ms. LYNNE ZINK: When I'm in the auction galleries, I'll be like: 20 is bid, now, 25. Twenty-five and now 30, 30 we get 30 and now 35. And now 40, 40 and now 45 (unintelligible). We're moving along really quickly as we're selling items. But in a benefit auction, we're there to raise money. We wanna be sure they understand what they're buying. We could be like, how about a $500 bid? five hundred, now 600. Six hundred here, now, 700. Six hundred's the bid. Asking 700...

SILVERMAN: But even hiring an auctioneer does not guarantee a rake in the big bucks. There's always the possibility that mom or dads planned a playdate or is just too exhausted to show up.

That's where a website called Bidding for Good comes in. The site's kind of like an eBay for charities. It's run 3,800 auctions that have raised $45 million.

Sharon Keeton, the principal back in California, has used the site for three years.

Ms. KEETON: It's been very successful. The advantages to doing it online are that we actually extend our fundraising capabilities to a larger audience. People can send the link, for instance, to grandparents across the country.

SILVERMAN: And let hundreds of thousands of strangers get in on the bids. Plus, says, Bidding for Good CEO John Carson, the money comes in big chunks when you're selling expensive wine tours and vacation stays in Hawaii.

Mr. JOHN CARSON (CEO, Bidding for Good): Probably the strangest thing was the vasectomy for you and your cat, an unwashed Lance Armstrong jersey that went for $110,000. We just auctioned off a flight in Harrison Ford's biplane. It went for something like $55,000.

SILVERMAN: Online auctions are just one part of this new business of school fundraising. But like some of the other creative ways schools have found to raise money, think pizza ads on school buses or fast food sponsorships. These revamped auctions have their downsides.

Here's Dan Domenech of the American Association of School Administrators.

Mr. DOMENECH: Clearly, what this does and will do is widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The schools that have the greatest needs today are your inner city schools where the parents, obviously, don't have the means to forego with the dollars that they would wish they had in order to maintain a program.

SILVERMAN: School auctions raise another question.

Mr. DOMENECH: Whose obligation is this? Doesn't the government have the responsibility, which they actually do, to provide the quality education that the community wants, yet, it's not happening.

SILVERMAN: So schools around the country are going to have to keep filling budget gaps by auctioning hot air balloon rides, puppies and the occasional bike tour of France.

Unidentified Man: Sold for (unintelligible).

SILVERMAN: Lauren Silverman, NPR News.

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