Budget busting social stuff

scarlett2001April 28, 2008

I work in the type of employment where one set of people have higher level jobs and paychecks and the other (including me, unfortunately!) have lower level jobs/pay.

So now a "Social Committee" has been formed, which is asking for a yearly donation to cover gifts, flowers, cards etc. for people's various life events. The amount started at $25 and has now gone up to $50, since we have a lot of younger employes who are getting married, having babies, house warming events, etc.

They also plan to have a luncheon twice a year, which costs about $40 or more each time at a really nice restaurant. Too bad these luncheons come at the holidays, when money is tight w/me and again at the end of the school year, when I am lookng at what amounts to a 2 and a half month layoff, no unemployment benefits.

Just to top it off, I really do not enjoy these luncheons and if I want to give a gift to somebody for their marriage, baby, etc. I would prefer to do it on my own, so then I have some choice in what the gift is. For example, I contributed last year and the gift was a $200 ugly fake tree!

Does anybody have ideas for how to get out of this gracefully because I'm just not wanting to throw money away on this.

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I think I'd write an anonymous letter to the head of HR (or whoever is closest) and the president/CEO and say: "this makes me really uncomfortable. I make little enough as it is, and I do not wish to participate in this sort of thing to this degree. The money being demanded is the equivalent of two and a half months of income. This apparently mandatory club is not appropriate. If I decline to participate, I worry that this will affect my review. Please do not allow this divisive requirement to continue. At the very least, please make it clear that participation is not required."

And then just avoid it completely. If anyone ever brings it up to you, simply say, "I'm sorry, it's nice of you to be concerned about including me, but I can't afford it." Maybe you'll need to say quietly to someone, "I'm not going to participate, so please be sure not to include me in the list of honorees."

We *do* sometimes give gifts to folks at work, but it has always been very unofficial, and the amount you give (and WHETHER you give) is totally anonymous (except perhaps to the person doing the collecting, and so far everyone is very careful never to talk about it, and in fact often they let you slip the money in the envelope w/o them seeing what it is).

I know from having taken up collections that folks w/ higher paychecks often pitch in much more money--$50 to $20, esp. if the recipient is much lower than them. And folks give based on whether they spent much work time w/ those folks.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 7:19PM
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Oh don't you just hate those workplace "social committees" do-gooders. A pox on their homes.
The anonymous letter is a good idea or you could bring it up non-chalantly, if that's the correct term, if say someone at lunch mentions about it. Kind of let it be known through the grapevine that you're not interested but put a good spin on it somehow.

I always detested the dreaded Christmas gift exchange or Secret Santa type crap and refused to participate. I just told people point blank that I didn't agree with forced giving because I honestly don't and so I didn't participate. One year I started an "adopt a family Christmas" program in the office collecting money for a needy family, it went well but then if I didn't do all the work it wouldn't have happened. Nobody else carried it on, all they were interested in was silly gift exchanges and gossip, hoping they didn't get "so & so's name" etc etc. A bunch of foolishness from adult people

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 12:05AM
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Well, that's exactly how I feel, but you know, there is really a lot of pressure put on you. One woman told me she liked my shoes and then made a remark about how if I could afford such nice shoes, I could afford to give to the Social Committee. Now, I buy everything on sale, Goodwill or discount or even yard sales sometime, and if she really knew...any anyway, I consider shoes a necessity for going to work! I guess I will just have to be the office grouch or something. Sometimes you have to fight for your frugality!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 3:29PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I like the idea of the anonymous letter. Dh's work has an annual Christmas party during the work day and the cost is around $30 to attend for the meal, room, etc. Dh generally declines to attend, refusing to pay $30 for a turkey buffet (how much turkey can one eat in November and December). He generally sites having to play Santa for 4 kids or something like that. Alas, if he wants to move up, he will probably have to begin attending for the "networking."

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 5:55PM
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Wow, I would never spend $40 for lunch and I would politly decline. And what Sue said about quietly saying that you won't be participating because of budget concerns is good too. When we did these things at one company I worked for it was paid out of petty cash. Luckily, my new company doesn't have a "social director."

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 9:44AM
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I so agree with you. Recently, my boss's MIL passed away. We think the world of our boss but at $8/hr it is hard to go crazy with a huge donation. One gal wanted to give a $100 gift -- there were 4 of us and 3 of us -- can not afford that at this time. She called us cheap. Besides -- it was a gift that would be totally unappreciated by the boss.

We bought something she would like -- spent $5 a piece.

But the gal that wanted to give a $100 gift -- sent all of us wedding invitations to her son's wedding. I have never met her son -- we do not socialize at all. I have always thought that weddings are for intimate friends and family! Not strangers off the street!

No -- I am not going!


    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 10:15AM
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I'm no longer working, but when I was I seldom participated in gift-giving appeals, but I was always asked. I always smiled when I declined their requests and said, "No, thank you" and didn't offer an explanation. I worked in a high school, so the staff was large and the occasions numerous. Even though I seldom participated in gift-giving occasions, I was well-liked. I often would send my own card or note to an individual I was particularly friendly with, and I think that meant more to the recipients than a mandatory mass gift.

When my husband got very sick the entire HS staff and students organized and donated blood in his name. They barely even knew him; they did it for me. When I got very sick seven weeks later, the same staff organized homemade dinners for us and brought them ready to eat to our home every night for almost four weeks! We were very touched and thankful for such meaningful gestures.

If you stop and think about it, what do you remember most about the gifts you've received? That they took up a collection and a designated person made a purchase? Just smile and say, "No, thank you" without an explanation. If they press you, keep smiling. Your reasons are your own.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 1:07PM
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I know of only two exceptions who made not giving to the big fund work for them. One crocheted baby receiving blankets for the baby showers and beautiful throws for wedding gifts. When asked for money, she would state that she was making a special handmade gift for them that was almost complete, but please give me the opportunity to give the next time. When asked for money for funeral flowers, she would give $5. If the person collecting the money stated that it was not enough, she would say we have 80 employees, if each gave $5, that would buy a $400 wreath. The other lady grew African Violets from rooting leafs. She would wrap the plants in pretty foil paper and put a beautiful card with it. She always acted as if her gifts were a treasure and that she was so proud of them.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 7:33PM
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I too dislike the group things. I opt out on them all. I give gifts when I want to give gifts and tell people that I don't need anything so don't feel obligated to give a token that would contribute to my clutter. I make it known that I want to declutter. People who know me know that I enjoy something like homemade cookies to an odd shaped mug that doesn't fit my hand that has an unfunny statement on it. I try hard to give gifts to people that are things they need, can use or want. For example, I'd rather give someone laundry detergent (a brand I know they use) than some flowers that will wilt in a day. I've given my sister a prepaid cell phone and as a gift I pay for the time. It's saved her money, has been useful, enables people to get a holdof her more easily and I feel she is safer when she's driving by herself in case of a breakdown, accident or whatever. I think of it as a gift of safety.

I really think people have lost sight of what's important. I've found that especially with elderly, they often will far prefer a gift of company. Take them to lunch or join them for coffee and conversation. Watch a movie with them and ask about when they were growing up. There's a wealth of knowledge to be had and a gift shared both ways.

I can say this: I received an email from a friend for my birthday. I actually forgot it was my BD until I got her email and first I was smiling to see her address since we don't see each other often enough, and that she remembered my BD was a real day brightener. That was far better for me than a shirt that wouldn't fit, in a color I don't like in a type I have enough of anyway! The thought DOES count, at least to me.

These "Hallmark Holidays" are a peeve of mine! :)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2008 at 3:06AM
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I would just say with a smile "I'm sorry, I can't afford it". If the person persists, just repeat, "I'm sorry, I just can't afford that". If you need to say it a third time, drop the smile. In my experience, people usually get the message by then.

I'm a newly-poor person, sort of by choice. (Laid off, decided to see if I could survive working part time). I'm managing to pay the mortgage on my house and keep my animals fed, but there are lots of things I can't afford anymore. Life is simpler now.

It just fascinates me to see the different ways people react when you them openly and without shame that you can't afford something.

Forget about the "pressure" you're getting to contribute to these things. If you can't afford it, that is literally the bottom line. That's just the way it is.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 9:30PM
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Yes, well, I got an email from my boss saying that if I couldn't afford it, she would pay for my lunch, if I didn't want to drive the distance, she would give me a ride and that the two of us who are not attending the luncheon are the ruin of all company morale and a menace to civilization as we know it, etc. etc. Attila the Hun was not worse than we are.

Also, we are all reminded to show up at work tomorrow wearing our $30 company polo shirts (I didn't buy one) for the group photo. I assume the cloning process will begin right after that.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 3:50PM
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So let's blame the victim, shall we, for standing up to a steamroller and being pegged as the ruin of company morale.

Crimony, even the locally owned restaurant I worked at that required us to wear a company polo shirt supplied them to us. So, you have to buy a "uniform?" Keep your receipt if you are more or less forced to do so -- I think it's a tax deductible expense.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 4:06PM
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Nobody wants to be the first one to say no, so if you can get a group together and as a group say "no we are not going to do this" it works much better.

Company get togethers. as well as polo shirts, t-s or anything else with the company name and logo on it IMHO should be paid for by the company if they feel they are so darn important. Personally I'd prefer a salary increase over a get together. Just cause I work with someone does not mean I want to spend my free time with them. If I choose to spend free time with them it should be my choice as to how much time and when.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2008 at 6:23PM
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They want you to wear a co. T-shirt ...

... offer to rent one ...

... for a penny.

After all - a penny for a 5 minute pic. is 12 cents/hour ... $2.88 per day ...

... $86.40 - 89.28/mo.

Heck - that'd more than pay for the damned shirt!

To be fair, though - when one rents some equipment from a rental store, usually to rent it about 4 times means that one might as well have bought it in the first place. But ... no need to impart that info to the company-promoting staff zealots.

Good wishes for finding the simplest but most effective way around the problem.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 4:22AM
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My response to your boss's manipulative email would have been "Okay!"

If it's that important to her, she can foot the bill.

Stick to your guns. Don't let them humiliate you.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 8:07AM
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Well, today seven of us have been "posted" by email to all the other employees. "The following people have not paid their Social Committee dues," etc. You know, it isn't even about the money anymore, it's about the pushiness. I hope I am not the only one to stand my ground. It's getting kind of ugly.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 12:53PM
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Scarlett I wonder if they are making wagers as to how long you will be able to stay at that company. Sometimes one has to go along to get along, but after having made a stand, backing down now would earn you no respect either. Good luck, I think you will need it.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2008 at 1:25PM
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I can't beleive the gall off the "social Director" posting your name. I would document everything for possible harrasment suit later. Go to your HR, or director and complain, better yet do it in writting along with a copy of the post, keep a copy. That borders on harrasment and that person really has crossed the line. Buy company t-shirts!! Usually companies hand them out free if they want employees to wear them. My husband did buy a jacket once from company (over priced crappy jacket), but the t-shirts/polos were free. Sounds like they think you should pay for the privlage to work there. As for the $50, thats way too much, you shouldn't be forced into gift giving, thats not the point of giving a gift. If the "company" wants to give a gift it can come out of their petty cash.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 5:43AM
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Much of this decision depends on what your goals are with the company. If your goal is your boss' job...then you should pay the $50, buy the silly T-shirt, & attend the parties with a big smile on your face. If your goal is just to continue in your present position & you don't care about promotions, etc. then hold your ground as you're doing. Sometimes, attendance at company parties is MANDATORY (as in a semi-annual company management update followed by a "party"). Those you have no choice. This one sounds though like attendance is optional. They can't fire you for not attending a NON-MANDATORY event.

Sometimes in life, you have to spend money to make money. These company social situations fall into that category.

Most all jobs come with some level & degree of corporate politics. Social committees are part of a company's culture. Success on a job is often as much about how well you play the "game" as it is about how well you perform your job function. Company politics have no written rules. But they exist nonetheless. If this job is important to you...watch what your boss does & follow suit. Same category as "Dress for Success".

We don't all have to agree on the fairness or validity of corporate politics but for sure they exist & aren't going away just because we don't like them.

As long as a company doesn't ask me to do anything illegal or immoral then I would evaluate each political situation from the perspective of my career goals. Yep, sometimes that mean laying out $30 for a lunch or giving up some free time to a company event.

Can they actually overlook you for a promotion because you don't participate in these silly things? Yes, they can.

It'll be subtle. Two people with similar skill sets. One plays the "games" & one doesn't. Guess who gets the promotion?

So, I guess my advice would be to decide if this is the mountain you want to die on relative to your overall career goals? Is so, hold your ground. If not, pay your "dues" & attend the functions.

Good luck...


    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 6:53AM
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This thread reminds me of the "Evil Entitled Neighbor" thread on the Small Home Forum.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2008 at 6:12PM
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I'm not too concerned about company advancement. I have gone as far as I can in my classification and would have to return to college and get a master's degree to go further. Considering the few years I have until retirement, that would not really bring any big returns.
However, what you are saying is certainly the reality for a younger person in a corporate job and if that were the case, I would have to go along to get along, that's for sure!

Today we had a big meeting and the costs are mounting: $20 for the luncheon, which will be Mexican food, Another $20 for prizes for games (good Gawd!) they plan to play, the $30 for the polo shirt, plus the dues for the Social Committee and extra $ for two people I don't even know who are contemplating matrimony. The venue is a twenty five minute drive by freeway each way. The holds outs are now down to two of us and we were singled out before the entire company at the meeting and told that if we do not attend the luncheon, we are supposed to stay at the office and work while everybody else gets off at 11:30, goes to the luncheon and then home for the day - no big deal to me! I figure I'm getting paid to work all day, I might as well do it, right? The other hold out told me she is planning to call in sick. I just want June 13th to come and go! Wow, just realized that is Friday the 13th...

    Bookmark   May 22, 2008 at 2:06AM
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This whole situation reeks of legal discrimination and workplace harassment. If you wanted to take it to a lawyer, I'd bet you'd have a very strong leg to stand on.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2008 at 5:56AM
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Holy cow, I'd be completely ticked off at that kind of demanding money and participation in a "social" committee. And I'm really surprised that human resources would allow it - it's terribly inappropriate. Any anonymous letter to HR would probably just be attributed to you at this point, but if you know anyone there and could happen to mention to them that all this pressure to "contribute" over $100 is making you very uncomfortable, maybe they'd tell the overzealous social committee to back off and quit harassing people. Unless of course HR has already paid their 'committee' dues and they don't see the problem with it. Or the head of HR is one of the ones contemplating matrimony...

If you end up not going to the party, you could try to spin it as "I'll hold down the fort here at work and you all go have a good time!" or something. So you're not the Destroyer of Morale, you're a good trooper who wants to get lots of work done for this fabulous company.

If you do go to the party, I'd sure be tempted to let your boss pay for lunch. From a getting-promoted-at-work perspective it's probably not the best move, but she did offer, and if you've already topped out on promotions, then let her spend her own money.

I'd even try make it a point to thank her (privately) for "making it possible for you to attend, since morale is so important". I'm not sure I could pull that off without looking like I'm chewing ground glass, but this is an issue that's going to keep coming up, so offering some way to smooth it over would be good. At least if you go to the lunch and she pays, you establish that you are supportive of company morale, but that it's just not feasible for you to spend your money on these social things.

Wish I had a better answer for you. I always dreaded the "let's have all the employees donate to United Way through regular paycheck deductions so the company can say that it's generous!" pledge drives. I never let them deduct from my paycheck, but I always ended up writing a check for a one-time donation. And it always ticked me off!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 5:45PM
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Scarlett, all I can say is that I feel for you! I agree with the majority of what most of the posters on this thread is saying (outrage!) but was shocked to see that I agreed point for point with Cynic. I could have written that post.

As for now, I have enough family obligations that I MUST attend. Even though I don't begrudge giving my neices and nephews wedding and graduation gifts I would certainly draw the line at 'work' celebrations. Emphasis on 'work' as opposed to 'career'....I am also like Scarlett in that manner, I have a job with an hourly wage and am not on the career ladder. Gals like us pay our own way when we WANT to, we don't like to HAVE to. Good luck pasting a phoney smile on the 13th. I'll be thinking of you.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 5:50PM
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Geeeze. I'd be sure to keep copies of everything because you may need it later incase you're suddenly "downsized". I would not take this to HR because HR works for the company side of things NOT the employees. They are NOT there for you, that is the biggest mistake people make. Just keep as much detailed info as you can and hire a lawyer if ever required.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 6:56PM
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While pkguy is correct on who HR works for, it may be worthwhile to present the 'outing' email to HR and ask if participation in the social organization is a new company requirement and where it is defined in the company policies.
Prefacing your request with a comment about "Before consulting the legal dept. ...." may end the problem if there is no policy and HR alerts Legal of the potential threat to the company.
If this doesn't end the problem, go to Legal and request information on a tax write-off for these expenses as they were required by the company as evidenced by the Social Committee's (a company sanctioned organization) email and you are being coerced into paying them.
Once Legal gets wind of this there will be some quick changes made!
Oh, and Mexican food makes you sick. And, I don't care if your name is Maria Garcia from Mexico, City!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2008 at 2:48AM
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I don't have much new to add, but did want to say that you're absolutely in the right for standing up to this. You are being harassed. I would definitely put something in writing to HR asking if you are required to participate. State in the letter that if you were to participate in everything that you are being pushed to, it would be the equivalent of 1 paycheck, or X% of a paycheck.

Tell HR that you would like to stop being singled out and harassed for not participating in a voluntary program. I think it's important to document this stuff in writing to cover yourself if there are any further issues.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2008 at 11:29PM
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This is now going from outrageous to actually kind of comical. It was announced that we are "encouraged" to provide $50 toward a prom ticket (I work in a school office) for students who cannot afford one.

Now I am not unsympathetic to students who want to go to the prom and can't afford it. However, I think that is their parents concern OR they can WORK and EARN it. Earning your own way is real life. Getting stuff handed to you is not. Every week I publish a job board and many of the students will not even take one.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2008 at 11:48AM
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Sounds like some of the junk I put up years ago where I worked. But then it was in the $5.00 range and some of us had other places for our money.
Yes it was rough as some of the people found other ways to cause problems. Like several said, keep a journal, document everything, and be prepared to stand up for your rights, not what so-n-so thinks you should do or spend. I noticed that you work in a school and I wonder how much of this is legal under school board rules. Of course if is a small district, some times rules get bent. But then contact a person who wants to run for the board and casually discuss all the donations, which in most schools are not legal.Good luck

    Bookmark   May 28, 2008 at 4:50PM
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A little off topic...As I agree with lakeron's post, I don't agree with the Mexican food comment. My name's Heather and I'm not from Mexico. Love the Mex. food!

scarlett2001- Has the other person backed down or are they still with you in protest?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2008 at 5:20PM
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"Oh, and Mexican food makes you sick. And, I don't care if your name is Maria Garcia from Mexico, City"


Might make YOU sick... but there are plenty of us who love the stuff and are quite healthy!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2008 at 6:32PM
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I think lakeron was just suggesting that scarlett2001 could say that another reason she couldn't go to the luncheon is because she can't eat Mexican food, which is what the lunch will be. Regardless of whether she actually does like Mexican food.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 12:24AM
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The tide is starting to turn! The latest request is for our rebate checks to be donated for prom snacks. This is the straw that broke the camel's back for some people and they are starting to really grumble. So the heat is off me, at last. Now the disgruntled ones are coming to me to ask me to represent them but I sure am not going to fall into that. Next week it will all be over, thank Goodness!

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 4:54PM
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This really brought back memories of when I worked for one of those in-store photo outfits YEARS back. There were a number of issues but the annual company picnic was one that ticked me off. Had forgotten about it until now. Since I (well actually all of us) would have to work 6 days a week, Sunday was our only day off to wash clothes, do housework, pay bills, etc, and of course pack for the next week. So when they came up with the Sunday picnic I wasn't happy. We had a bunch of new people working there. I was there the longest at that point and it was less than a year! Then when the personnel manager came in and started chewing us out because the previous year none of the traveling photographers came to the picnic and that better not happen again, I said back the train up Mabel, this is enough. I spoke up and pointed out that none of us were here last year and not to blame us for what the other people did. Needless to say, she threw a temper tantrum and I was in her crosshairs. No problem. Then I decided to not attend. I said I want my day to myself. Most of the others were intimidated into going. I was glad I didn't.

The dietary issues might be an interesting thing to play with if you wanted to. Pick a dietary need, low-carb, gluten-free, etc and ask what they're going to have for that need and when they say none, ask how much to deduct for not getting to eat, and of course maybe order in something special, well, it probably isn't worth it but these are options. A little ipecac could be an interesting contribution but I'm sure you don't care to "contribute" that!

Seriously though, I think I would be sending that posting to the school board. I assume you're in the few who are non-union? I was in that position when I worked for a school district years and years ago. Oh how I remember "The Sunshine Club" and the United Way demands. And I remember getting the notes from the teachers, written in crayon with spelling and grammer at about a second grade level!

I think you should have a sit down with the personnel director for the district. For them to be sending out information about one's financial status is a flagrant violation of data privacy. A good sneaky attorney can get you about $50k for that. We had experience with the local government on this situation. A couple of employees milked a lot of money with bogus claims but they settled.

And a peace offering could be offering to, in lieu of the cash contribution, you offer to contribute for instance some cards? Go to the dollar store or something and pick up some birthday, anniversary, and sympathy cards for a few dollars and it'd save the Committee a lot at $5/card!

Good luck! Hope the time (not unlike a kidney stone) passes quickly and painlessly!

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 10:32PM
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