Dear Parent:

It's that time of year again! That's right: It's time for the school's annual fundraising drive!

Or, as I like to call it, fun-raising drive!

Longtime members of the Croaking Terrace Elementary School family know just how much students look forward to the fundraising drive and how important it is to the school's "bottom line."

The money we raise each year helps supplement the school's budget. I don't need to remind you that times are tight and that the fundraising drive is the only way we can afford those "extra" items such as basketballs, textbooks and white-noise machines for the teachers' lounge.

Plus, the kids love it! Many tell us that they never would have met their neighbors if they hadn't been inspired to go door-to-door clutching catalogues and order forms.

This is not to say that the school fundraising drive is a cakewalk. We at Croaking Terrace seem to have been particularly snakebit when it comes to our annual fundraiser.

Last year someone started a whispering campaign that Sally Foster was a high-ranking member of al Qaeda. Though I can assure you there is no truth to this rumor, the damage has been done, and our students will not be selling Sally Foster products this year.

Similarly, the high hopes we had two years ago for Joe Corbi pizzas were somewhat misplaced. I guess our eyes were a lot bigger than our customers' stomachs! The result: We had to plow 1,300 pounds of unsold Joe Corbi pizzas into the north end of the playing field. Ms. Semeltone, the science teacher, said the grass should start growing there again in just three to five years.

We had many fine ideas on what we could sell this year. We toyed with the idea of selling fractional ownership in a Lear Jet but we just couldn't make the numbers work. Mr. Glumstrap, the boys' PE teacher, looked into selling bodybuilding and fitness supplements. The intrusive practices of the Food and Drug Administration put the kibosh on that.

But I think you're going to be as excited as I am about this year's product. It is -- drum roll, please! -- candy!

After all, who doesn't like candy? All you have to do is look at some of our chunkier students and their parents and you'll agree that this is a no-brainer.

And not just any candy, but Farmer Ollie's Lactose-Free Carob Nut Clusters. I am told that these tasty confections practically sell themselves. If you've never had a Farmer Ollie's Lactose-Free Carob Nut Cluster, you don't know what you're in for!

I'm sure your little ones are eager to "hit the streets," but before they do, a few housekeeping reminders:

* Please don't allow children to sell on their own. They should at least operate in pairs, dividing territory into manageable chunks that can be covered efficiently in four hours before moving on to the next territory. A boiler room phone sales operation will be set up after school in the nurse's office for those with mobility issues. Consult your homeroom teacher for details.

* I know that some of your children might have complained to you about not being allowed to attend last year's Winners' Circle Celebration. The lavish, catered party in the multipurpose room was open only to students who had sold $1,000 worth of wrapping paper, candles, popcorn, popcorn seasoning, truffle oil, potpourri sachets, dupioni silk curtains or prepaid legal services.

Some of the students felt left out, and so this year, everyone gets to go to the party! We will have several levels of participation, based on how much your child sells before our Nov. 17 deadline:

$1,000 and up -- Platinum Circle: Full access to jumbo shrimp bar, root beer float station, shiatsu massage table and a ticket to the exclusive after-party with the evening's entertainers, Huey Lewis and the News and the cast of Cirque du Soleil.

$750-$999 -- Golden Circle: Two shrimp, bottomless Shirley Temple, scoop of ice cream, backstage pass for Huey Lewis.

$500-$749 -- Silver Circle: One shrimp, one Fresca, one cookie.

$200-$499 -- Bronze Circle: Tater tots, milk.

$50-$199 -- Losers' Corral: Will be able to watch all the festivities via closed-circuit television from the gymnasium.

* We have some great "prizes" for selling our tasty candy. To simplify things, we're going to have only two levels of incentives this year. Students who sell $1,000 or more worth of candy will receive a Nokia 6260 cell phone with Web browsing capability, a Segway human transporter and a golden retriever puppy. Those who sell less than $1,000 will receive a "Just Say No to Drugs" lanyard.

* If for some reason your child will not be able to sell any candy this year, please sign the enclosed form. We will also need these forms notarized and submitted with two copies of your child's school photo. I want to assure you that while the form will become part of your child's permanent record, it in no way will affect his or her semester grades.

Well, that's it. I just know we'll get 100 percent participation this year!

Harriet Femburbler

Principal, Croaking Terrace Elementary

No Joke

Okay, that was me joking. Here's me being serious: A reminder that the D.C. school we're raising money for this year through grocery store discount cards is Margaret Murray Washington Career High School. The code number for Giant's A+ Bonus Bucks is 02430. For Safeway's Club Card, it's 149897995.