Career Questions: Usurping Grant Funds
Q: I applied for a grant from a local agency early last spring and was excited when I learned I had gotten it. It’s only $3500, but I planned to use the money to purchase some cameras and Ipads for my art classes. Our school can’t afford this technology, so it’s pretty great that I’ll be able to offer kids something I couldn’t do before. Here’s the problem: When I told my principal the good news, she immediately said that while it’s great I won the grant, she’d like to use the money to buy books for the English department. She justified her decision by saying that art is an elective and offers enrichment, but new English books are a necessity for everyone. What do I do?
A: That’s quite an incentive program your principal has! Let’s set aside for a moment your disappointment, annoyance, and maybe even anger at your principal’s suggestion because while you have a right to feel that way, none of those emotions will help solve the problem. Instead, I suggest you bring to your principal’s attention the ethics involved in the situation.
First of all, I hope you talked to your principal before you submitted your grant proposal so that she was on board with your plan right from the start. If you didn’t, she may feel less commitment to your proposal, but that doesn’t negate the fact that in your proposal you specified what the money would be used for. The grant was awarded on that premise. To accept the funds and then use them differently, even for a good cause, is dishonest. In addition, most grantees are required to submit a follow-up report on how the funds were used. You cannot pretend that they were used for technology when they weren’t and you cannot compromise your own principles.
Finally, the English department is free to apply for grants too, just like you did. They are not entitled to the fruits of your initiative.
These are arguments that you can present to your principal, and I hope she abandons the idea of usurping your grant. To do so would be dishonest and unethical and would certainly deter other independent initiatives on the part of teachers in the future.