Parents at Kelly Miller Junior High School in Northeast Washington raised $4,000 last year to buy workbooks and computer programs in mathematics and reading to improve their children's scores on standardized tests.
Across town at Eaton Elementary in upper Northwest, parents' donations have paid for a music teacher, movie projectors and textbooks.
In both cases, parents got together, with the school system's blessings, to provide what tax dollars did not.
Last year, District parents raised $200,000 to pay for extra teachers, equipment and supplies, primarily at city elementary schools, buying many of the things that are taken for granted in suburban school systems.
A report last week stating that District students are receiving inferior educations compared with Fairfax and Montgomery county pupils came as no surprise to many parents, who hold fund raisers that range from bake sales to auctions to subsidize their schools' budgets.
The report, prepared by Parents United for the District of Columbia Schools, a leading lobby group for increased school funding, stated that the District's public schools are inferior mainly because of deteriorating buildings, overworked principals and teachers, and inadequate funds.
In addition, a large percentage of the school budget is required to educate handicapped, learning-disabled and below-average achievers, who make up about 60 percent of the 88,000 D.C. students. Expenditures for these "special needs" students come "at the expense of" average and above-average students, the report said.
When principals need resources and services unavailable through school funds, they often turn to their Parent-Teacher Association.
"The PTA is always there when we need help," said Patricia Greer, Eaton's principal. "I needed a copy machine. That's not something that my school system budget could provide. I went to the parents."
They raised $1,500 for a copy machine, she said.
Virginia Fleishman, a marketing consultant who is active in the PTA at Eaton, where she has a son in the third grade, said: "We don't want to have to move to the suburbs for quality education for our children. So we throw block parties, have magazine sales, art fairs, and solicit contributions from corporations and foundations. This month, we're selling Christmas trees."
Claude Moten, principal of Kelly Miller school, credits the workbooks and computer programs that parents provided with helping the school's students score above the national norms on standardized tests last year -- an uncommon feat for students such as his, many of whom live in public housing.
"We do an adequate job without the extra financial help from parents, but it shouldn't be necessary for a school to be just adequate," he said. "Parents want the best for their children. These are the kinds of resources provided for students in the suburban counties. Such supplies are the kinds of essential resources that must be provided for youngsters to reach their fullest potential."
Parents' groups are most active in raising funds for elementary schools, according to school documents and reports issued by the Washington Parent Group Fund, a nonprofit foundation that gives the groups money for school projects.
"On the elementary level, children have not diversified into separate groups, and what is raised is raised for all the students," said Etta Green Johnson, executive director of the Parent Group Fund. "On the secondary level, parents tend to raise money only for special activities that involve their children."
Parent groups in such suburban areas as Fairfax and Montgomery counties have been noted for their ability to raise money for such extras as computers and equipment for language laboratories. Recently, however, school board officials and educators have raised concerns that PTA gifts in these affluent counties can create inequities among schools in the same area.
William Wilhoyte, principal of Farmland Elementary School in Montgomery County, which was noted in the Parents United study as a typical suburban school, said: "The school system, by and large, finances the essentials. The parents provide extra things."
Donations to the schools are important, but in most instances they solve few of the problems affecting the students who attend the District's 165 schools, according to Delabian Rice-Thurston, executive director of Parents United.
"A lot of parent groups cannot afford to buy additional resources for schools," she said. "And the small amounts of money others raise cannot make the kind of major repairs the buildings need. Some schools have holes in the roofs, and when it rains, water falls right into some classrooms."
Murch Elementary School at 36th and Ellicott streets NW boasts one of the most sophisticated parent groups. In March 1984, the PTA took over the atrium of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue NW to hold its annual school auction, which attracted nearly 400 guests and raised about $19,000.
Parents at Murch have spent their money to hire a nurse to work at the school because "small kids need that kind of service," said Murch PTA President Carol Stoel.
"It's very common to have school nurses in other jurisdictions," she said. "In D.C., a nurse may visit a school once a week.
"We also hired aides for overcrowded kindergarten classes," Stoel said. "We spent $2,000 on workbooks. We gave each teacher about $150 for supplies. We spent $250 on science supplies, $400 for the school newspaper and $750 for computer equipment."
The PTA also has hired and paid for teachers to run regular art and music classes, Stoel said.
On Capitol Hill, Veola Jackson serves as the principal for three schools, Peabody, Hobson and Watkins, where parental donations have paid for part-time music teachers, among other things.
"Parental financial support is just fantastic," she said. "We're able to do so many other things than we could without it. The hands-on materials make a big difference. And they provide extra teachers in foreign languages and the arts, to enhance students' education."