It's come to this in our public schools: Teachers are flipping burgers at McDonald's to pay for textbooks and trumpets.

In an attempt to raise money, local schools are ramping up their participation in McTeacher's Nights, in which staff and parents work behind the counter at McDonald's. On a designated evening, families and friends are encouraged to head to the Golden Arches, with McD's donating 20 percent of the night's sales to the participating school.

While McTeacher's fundraisers aren't new, they are gaining in popularity. Tony Ruiz, the Northwest regional director for McDonald's, says that this year 375 schools in the five-state region participated in the fundraisers, an increase of about 100 schools over last year. More than 20 schools in the Portland metro area have participated so far this fall. Bridgeport Elementary, in the Tigard-Tualatin school district, for example, took part in its second official Annual McTeacher's Night Oct. 24. "It was a fun event," says Principal Gordon Hickey, who worked a three-hour shift along with 12 teachers. "People were jammed in." Between them, Hickey and the teachers raised $422--a little less than $11 an hour.

Tim Biamont, a teacher at Marshall High School, says McTeacher's Night has netted his school $500 this year, the most in the four years Marshall has participated. "We've had really, really good staff buy-in," says Biamont, who has organized the fundraiser both as an educational project for his marketing class and to help out the marching band.

Other educators, however, are decidedly less excited about turning to Mayor McCheese to patch up their budget.

They say the events lend the credibility of the schools to McDonald's for a pittance, while promoting poor nutrition in a state that already boasts the highest rate of obesity in the West. They worry that desperate times in the schools have led to even more desperate choices.

"I'm not supportive of corporations taking advantage more and more of a captive audience," says Tom McKenna, a curriculum specialist for Portland Public Schools. "I think the intrusion of corporations into the schools really endangers our free space."

Still, the schools are broke and need all the friends they can get. Portland Association of Teachers president Ann Nice has mixed feelings about McTeacher's Nights. "My first reaction is that it's sad that we have to go to that effort just to fund basic education, but it's also positive to have the involvement of local businesses."

Some local businesses offer schools better deals--and don't make teachers don fast-food garb in order to get support.

McMenamins, for example, has paired with more than 25 Oregon schools this year for Family and Friends Nights (formerly known as "Half Nights"). School staff members don't have to clock any hours, but on a chosen evening 50 percent of the sales from 5 pm to closing go to a nearby school.

Individual schools have earned from $600 to $1,900 this year. With such high returns, the demand for the fundraisers exceeds McMenamins' ability to offer them.

Powell's Books is even more generous. The company's education-assistance program contributed more than $78,000 to local public schools last year--and all customers had to do was utter "It's for kids" at the cash register.