LONG BEACH — City officials plan to block bingo on high school campuses after the school board this week voted unanimously to support the idea as a means of raising money for extracurricular activities.
The school board backed bingo as a fund-raising effort by booster clubs, despite protests by opponents who argue that bingo should not be allowed on campuses to finance school activities.
The board also changed its regulation against smoking in public buildings in the Long Beach Unified School District. Because most players are smokers, the board agreed to allow smoking during games as long as equipment is installed to clean the air.
But the city of Long Beach has other ideas. City Manager James Hankla said permit applications from booster clubs at two of the high schools, Wilson and Millikan, will be rejected. The clubs neither own nor lease the school buildings for their exclusive use and therefore cannot legally operate bingo games in them, City Atty. John Calhoun said.
Calhoun said booster club members may ask the City Council to change the ordinance to allow the games in school buildings.
The games were started at Lakewood High School and were planned for the remaining four high schools in the district, Jordan, Wilson, Millikan and Polytechnic. Lakewood High school is the only one in the district outside the city of Long Beach. Only Millikan and Wilson have applied for permits to conduct bingo games.
The school board took up the issue of bingo late last year when a group called Parents Against Lotteries in Schools formed to stop the games.
Led by Polytechnic High School PTA President Maggie Hackett and local Mormon leaders, opponents argued that financing education with gambling sent out the wrong message to children. Besides, they added, the district was violating its own regulation that forbids gambling and smoking on school premises. The school board conceded the point about smoking and ordered the regulation changed.
"They finally admitted that they broke their own rules, said Robert Ward, a Polytechnic High School parent and a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I hate to think our school district is endorsing gambling. That's hard to take," he added.
But district administrators, who have argued that bingo is not gambling, said that Lakewood's Booster Club has not violated the district's regulation forbidding gambling. To set the record straight, however, the school board ordered the staff to revise its regulation to specify that booster clubs may hold bingo games on campuses.
Bingo supporters were stunned at the prospect of having their permit applications rejected by the city.
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Mary Kay Toumajian, a Wilson High parent who helped organize bingo efforts at her school.
"If there is a spirit of cooperation on their part, and there certainly is on our part, we can find some compromise solution so we can play our little bingo games," Toumajian said on learning of the city's position.
Board members had views centered on the question of whether bingo is a legitimate fund-raiser for school activities.
Board member Bobbie Smith said that churches commonly use bingo as a fund-raiser. Besides, she said: "It's not an ethical issue with me because I go to Vegas . . . I'm not a hypocrite."
Member Jerry Shultz said that gambling abounds, from school carnival booths to Boy Scout cake raffles to the state lottery.
Board President Jenny Oropeza said she was "not interested in debating whether bingo is a morally sound (activity)."
"I think the issue here is not whether or not we like bingo," Oropeza said. "We have to examine our policies, look at the merit of programs and determine whether it's an appropriate use (of school facilities)."
Board member Harriet Williams, who had expressed concern earlier about the bingo games, said a moral issue was involved. But the longtime board member said she is so excited about parents' coming together to help the schools that, "I feel I can chuck my ethics."
"In this case, I think realism is being called for," Williams said. She said the cost of sports equipment, transportation for debate clubs and other expenses associated with extracurricular activities have risen. "I've come a long way on this thing," Williams said.
Member Karin Polacheck echoed Williams' enthusiasm about the involvement of parents, who as members of booster clubs have spent many hours working on the bingo concept. She also praised bingo opponents for suggesting alternatives involving the establishment of an endowment fund, but that is an idealistic solution and not a tangible one, she said.
"I can't depend on dollars in a dream," Polacheck said. "We need the money now."
With bingo, supporters say, students, coaches and teachers can spend less time worrying about raising funds through candy sales and car washes. At the same time, parents can make a greater commitment to their children and schools by helping out with the weekly games, said Gary Goodenough, Lakewood High Booster Club president.
Other school districts in Southern California that have turned to bingo to raise money include Los Alamitos Unified, Whittier Union High School and Bellflower Unified.
Booster club members in the Long Beach Unified School District have been considering bingo games to raise money for extracurricular activities, such as equipment for athletic teams and marching bands. The fund for such activities at Millikan High School, for example, was $20,000 short last year, according to a report presented Monday to the school board. A school musical was canceled last year after it lost $3,000 the previous year, the report said.