January 18, 2012 | 07:59 AMEAST TROY — At a time when many school districts are sweeping the corners of their budgets to find funds for field trips and school supplies, parents and students here are checking cereal boxes.
Since 2002, the East Troy School District's Parent Teacher Organization has been a part of the Box Tops for Education program.
Started by General Mills, the box tops are worth 10 cents each.
This school year, the PTO's goal is $6,625, and about half that amount has already been raised, said Tina Kostenko of Mukwonago, who has managed East Troy's box tops program for the past three years.
The East Troy elementary PTO board decides how the money will be spent.
It's the PTO's second biggest fundraiser after its annual pizza sale, Kostenko said.
"It's grown for us," she said.
Money collected through the program is used for field trips, classroom supplies, musical instruments and PTO family fun nights, Kostenko said.
She said the program has also helped raise awareness among parents about the needs and costs of materials used in the classrooms.
In addition, teachers in the participating grades each get $125 at the start of the school year through the program to help pay for classroom supplies, Kostenko said.
Grades kindergarten through fifth in East Troy's two elementary schools, Prairie View and Leona Doubek, participate in the box tops program, Kostenko said. Five classes per grade are involved,
Each classroom has its own box top bin, and the PTO runs three contests every year, one in late fall, one in winter and one in late spring.
Twila Voss, principal of Prairieview School, said this year, the program will pay for live arts performances at the two elementary schools, including the Trinity Dancers on March 16.
Box tops money also pays for a "sunshine fund" to help pay for students who otherwise would not be able to go on field trips, she said.
"It's a big deal around here," Voss said.
Classes vie with each other to collect the largest number of box tops. One winning class per grade is selected.
Winning classes get prizes, like coupons to use at the School District book fair, and each grade level has a traveling trophy, Kostenko said. Other prizes have included snow cone parties and ice cream parties and cookies and hot chocolate for the winning classrooms.
"They're very competitive," Voss said of the classes involved in the Box Top competitions.
Kostenko said the program runs an annual Box Tops University program in Chicago, where coordinators of local programs can discover ways to increase earnings
General Mills started the program in 1996 in California, said Zach Ruderman, who runs the program for General Mills.
"When the program began in California in 1996, California was going through a budget crisis," Ruderman said. "People at Big G cereals saw an opportunity to help."
Last year, the program distributed $59 million to schools nationwide, Ruderman said, and a total of $400 million to participating schools over the last 15 years.
General Mills launched the box tops program on cereals such as Cheerios, Total and Lucky Charms.
Ruderman said the program went national in 1998.
Since then, companies such as Brita, Nestle, Betty Crocker, Hanes, Kimberly-Clark, S.C. Johnson & Sons and Boise Paper have joined with General Mills.
Redeemable box top tabs can now be found on such products as Kleenex, Cottonelle, Scott, Ziploc, Hefty, all Betty Crocker baking mixes, Welch's Grape Juice, Juicy Juice, Land O' Lakes and Imagewear, he said.