Sunday, March 04, 2012
Cash, Cash Equivalent: Is it really ever appropriate?
Every Chanuakah imamother has threads about "Chanukah Gelt" or gifts given directly from parents to teachers, morot, rebbes, and I promise I'm going to write about it. And then I don't. Next rolls along the next giving season, Pesach, and once again I never get around to the subject.
Well, I was surprised to see the cash gift thread arrive a bit prematurely in regards to Purim and I figured, hey, this doesn't need to be a lengthy post, but it is deserving of a discussion. So in the spirit of not procrastinating (or, perhaps in the spirit of procrastination), I'm going to ask my readership not whether cash or a cash equivalents is the better gift for teachers but to ask:
Is is ever appropriate for parents to give cash gifts directly to teachers who are not your own employees/contractors, but employees of the school that you contract with?
Personally, while I respect the institution of "Chanukah Gelt" (instituted when parents paid the Rebbe directly), "Pesach money," and "I'd like to help out the teacher who probably isn't getting paid much," I don't think it is appropriate to give anything more than a de minimus gift (excuse my tax terminology, 'tis the season). And I'm not really sure what the definition of de minimis is, but from what I understand from friends of mine (who live in a community where the custom is common and who appreciate this custom), certain parents will give well into the 100's, sometimes into the 1000's in gelt.
I have a hard time seeing the custom in its current manifestation as a positive. I believe in paying an appropriate market rate, on time, every time. I pitch in for the class gift, although there are years where I'm tempted to pinch my pennies. But, I see this type of giving as an ethical pitfall. (I will ignore any possible financial pitfalls here).
I do believe some (public) school districts issue guidelines on what type of gifts, if any, may be given. I believe one nearby school district prohibits cash and cash equivalents. If the district sees a personal gift as interfering with proper relationships between the school, parents, and teachers, how much more so in a financially private school market where "cash is king"? I don't want to put out accusations, but many do believe that certain behaviors are ignored because of a parent's stature, do we want our teachers to have to function in an environment where they feel their hands are tied more than they already are? Giving tips in a profession where it isn't normative can be interpreted as bribery of sorts. And, there is the issue of insensitivity to those with less when a gift becomes expected.
So, readers, is cash (or cash equivalents) beyond a "de minimis" amount (which would be hard enough to define) ever appropriate?