Auckland schools are using innovative methods to try to get parents to pay donations, as pressure on family finances sees more and more holding out this year.
At some schools, just half the expected number of families have paid. Principals cite high petrol and food prices among the reasons.
Despite donations being voluntary and public education guaranteed as free, many principals claim schools rely on the extra money.
At Freemans Bay School the board of trustees will decide next week if members will phone parents who have not paid to ask why.
It budgeted for 80 per cent of families to pay, but only 40 per cent have so far, despite the suggested donation being lowered to $260 this year.
Principal Sandra Jenkins said programmes the community had come to expect risked being cut if the contribution rate did not increase.
"In times where financially things are difficult, with increasing costs, we get a downturn in what it is that parents are able to pay. How then are schools expected to meet that downturn?" she said.
"Families have an expectation of free education but that's not a reality."
Remuera Primary School plans this week to publish the names of families who have paid at least half the recommended school donation.
Green Bay Primary School in West Auckland sent out statements, reminders and automatic-payment forms to non-payers and wrote in a newsletter that not making budget would lead to cuts in areas such as physical education and art.
Principal Jude Black said a survey of parents showed some were finding it tougher financially and others would not pay on principle.
The school was raising additional funds by selling vegetables to the community for a profit.
"I can't say we're making a lot of money out of it but it's healthier than selling pizzas," Ms Black said.
On the North Shore, where secondary school principals are lobbying the Government for an increase in operations funding, new measures have also been introduced.
Northcote College asked parents to pay a targeted $80 donation - to go to their choice of sport, art, IT or the school environment - on top of its standard $220 a year request.
Principal Vicki Barrie said parents responded well to the initiative, and more than 100 families opted in.