Monday, April 16, 2012

Washington State PTSA - I Still Don't Get It

The Washington State PTA holds its annual convention on May 4th, 5th, and 6th in SeaTac.   I've attended a couple in the past and, as a former PTA Board member, I found them energizing (if not overwhelming).  You kind of get the sense of being at a poker game and that there are major players holding the cards and you are there just to watch.

Your unit has to send a delegate to vote at the Convention.  The Convention costs $190 per delegate.  The Legislative Session in October is $140.  (You can request a scholarship or work as a volunteer to waive this fee.)  That's a lot of money for a PTA to give up and yet decisions are being made in the name of PTA and that name carries a lot of weight with legislators.

Region 6 that includes Seattle as well as Shoreline, Northshore, and Vashon Island has a large WSPTA membership (about 75 PTAs) and yet a fraction of eligible delegates attend.

What this means is that it is possible for the Convention to be controlled by one small group.  Consider asking your PTA to sponsor at least one delegate (or share the one delegate vote among a couple of people) to the Convention.

There are some good resolutions like supporting Arts Education, Alignment of Sleep Requirements for Optimum Health with School Start Times, and not funding additional staff (that PTAs fund educational experiences outside of the regular school day).  I think except for the arts plank (which I think most people would easily agree on), that the other two are worthy of discussion at the Convention.  But then there is the Equitable Educational Opportunities resolution.

One major issue continues to be the 2-year plank in support of charter schools that passed in Oct. 2011 at the Legislative Session.  No matter the protests of the Washington State PTA leadership that all was done according to bylaws, many people continue to feel blindsided and suspicious. 

Within this resolution is this:

Resolved, Washington State PTA will promote expansion of choice by supporting innovative schools -- in- cluding non-profit charter schools -- where they are supported by the local community and when they reflect the positions and principles of National and Washington State PTA, and when they adhere to and comply with applicable laws and guidelines set forth for other public elementary and secondary educational institutions.

Understand that resolutions passed become "a permanent statement of policy adopted by the WSPTA at its annual meeting."  But the procedure also says that resolutions "must not be in conflict with WSPTA and policies."

Here's where this gets murky for me.  I called the National PTA and asked about their "positions and principles" as stated above.  The press officer was pretty frank that he didn't even know what that was referencing in terms of charter schools and would let me know.  He wrote me back and listed items like:
-  be open to all students
-  comply with federal and state laws governing public schools
-  include parents in meaningful decision-making role

He also stated:

By the way, I would also note that National PTA only supports the creation of public and non-profit charter schools.  We do not support for-profit charters.

When I let him know about what the Washington legislation had allowed - only non-profits to open charters but then for-profits to run them - he said I should ask Washington PTA for their thoughts.

I wrote to Bill Williams, the Executive Director for Washington PTA, and frankly was baffled by his answer.

First, the language you quoted is one part of a multi-part resolution that will be considered by delegates at the Washington State PTA Convention, which will be held on May 4-6, 2012 at the Doubletree Hotel near SeaTac Airport.  It is a “PTA stance” only in the sense that the Board of Directors adopted it as a legislative position during the recently concluded legislative sessions.

Only in the sense? It is a resolution on the agenda at their Convention. That's a lot more than a stance.  There must be some nuance I am missing or, as is my belief, people are being disingenuous about the words they are using.

He also sent the language around parents:

“Standard 5: Sharing power—Families and school staff are equal partners in decisions that affect children and families and together inform, influence, and create policies, practices, and programs.”

This sounds great but in my research, I have seen virtually no charters that involve parents that deeply in any way, shape or form. It doesn't mean they don't exist but that they are hard to find at all says something.

He then goes on to say about any future charter legislation:

For example, Washington State PTA had and expressed serious concerns about both aspects of the bill I mentioned above because neither section provided for any meaningful parental or community involvement in the decisions that would have been authorized.

So to be clear.

The National PTA says they do not support for-profit charters.  To me it is a very slippery slope between law that allows only non-profits to open the schools but then can contract out all the running of the school to a for-profit group.  The PTA - National and Washington State - need to be clear on this issue and they aren't.

As well, if parent involvement in charter schools is key to supporting charter school legislation then the Washington PTA has a responsibility to stand up and be counted and refuse to support - and loudly - any charter school legislation that barely mentions parents at all (as this one this session did).

The PTAs - national, state, and local - have to stand with one voice on the key issues around charter school legislation and the policies that the PTA stands for.

Here's a parent letter that your PTA can use to get out the vote.

First personalize it. For example:
* Change “your” to “our” if contacting your own leadership, or “school name”,
* Include your association, past or present, with the school,
* Be sure to sign it

Dear PTA/PTSA President/Legislative Chair, 

I have a heads-up about the Washington State PTA Convention that's happening on May 4-6. You probably already know a lot of this, but basically… 

Delegates from PTA units all around the state will gather to vote on important resolutions, bylaws and candidates. This is when the PTA defines itself and its positions on things like equity, funding, etc. that will affect your school and students. 

* Schools have to pay for a vote.
* Schools can send two or more delegates, depending on size.
* It costs $190 for a PTA to send somebody (as of April 9th). Scholarships may be available through the Seattle Council PTSA and also people can "earn" a one day registration fee by volunteering. 

I hope your PTA(PTSA) will attend so your voice is counted. Please send your full contingent of delegates, but even sending one would be great; which may be one more than last year! 

The risk of not attending is that decisions will be made by other PTA's that could have a (radically) different opinion than you. 

Please check out the conference information.

And here is a link to the voters guide and the four permanent resolutions.

Best Regards,

16 comments:

Bird said...

I'm sure no one who is "holding the cards" at something like this would be for this, but shouldn't this method of governance be updated?

There's no reason individual members couldn't vote outside of a conventions, particularly in this internet age.

I'm less and less fond of the PTA the more I know about them.

Sahila said...

The Murder of the American Public Education System... move along, nothing to see here

Sahila said...
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Anonymous said...

People - contact your school's PTA/PTSA Board. Let them know this is important to you. Like everyone else these days, I'm sure they're busy and don't necessarily want to deal with this unless their membership tells them it is important. Let them know its important.

PTSA President

Sahila said...
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Sahila said...
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Anonymous said...

PTA - SEA/Jonathan - DeBell ... it all kinds of blurs together, doesn't it? Someone gets a majority of a dinky minority to agree to something, and ...

I AM THE PTA / SEA / WHATEVER ...

Hey - what are they supposed to do, use the internet to involve and survey people outside their echo chambers and their cliques?

ThatsNotLeaderly

dan dempsey said...

Considering that the PTA is supposedly a grassroots organization..... it just goes to show there is little grassroots action in any well established organization.

I recently found out that participation in the GOP precinct caucus ... county delegate caucus .. and then state level convention .. and eventually national delegation to the convention .... has nothing to do with Grassroots and yet that is supposedly the grassroots level of politics.

The GOP state Convention is only $100 per head ... so why are even more $$$$ needed to attend the PTSA state convention?

Guess those republicans are not as selective as I thought.... Is the PTSA is where the real money is?

DemocracyMom said...

In answer to Bird's question about whether the method of governance should be updated - yes it should. But voting by mail or electronically not allowed as per the Washington State PTA bylaws. These bylaws, however, can be voted down. Bylaw changes can be proposed in the fall for voting on at next year's state convention. For more info google "washington state pta bylaws."

Sahila said...

Love it Melissa....

Eric B said...

There's two sides to being controlled by a small group of people. On the one hand, the powers that be can push through things like charters and say that people should have shown up if they cared. On the other hand, it's relatively easy to pack a meeting to oppose said powers.

Dora Taylor said...

A charter school is a charter school, whether it is run by a "non-profit" or not. TFA, Inc is a "non-profit" that's racking in the dough so let's not mince words on this idea of privatizing our school system.

I just wrote a piece on the convention and how SFC and LEV have basically hijacked our PTA. It is time to take ou5r PTA back.

See The Washington State PTA Convention: Be There.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, point taken.

I will say that my experience in PTA was that the resolutions were basically the same 10+ things and that every year, the top 5 got picked. I can't even recall an especially hot topic.

But the people who put the charter plank in knew what they were doing. They knew that September is a good time when PTAs are just forming as a new group (if their leadership has changed). They knew that many PTAs have no legislative chair or, if they do, can't afford to go or don't go to the Legislative Assembly.

Things lined up nicely for this to get pushed through.

Again, the Washington State PTA had an obligation to educate its parent members on charter schools before this thing hit any plank of their legislative agenda. They did not provide that education. Why I can't say.

Seattle Council PTA has been silent on this issue so I don't know what they think.

But Dora is right; the Convention should be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Dora, thank you for the link to your article. As you mention there, the motto of PTA is "Every Child, One Voice." PTA does not speak for me. If PTA does not speak for you, then don't complain about it, speak up. Speak up to the PTA Board at your child's school. Speak up to your friends. Speak up to the teachers at your child's school. Ask your Board to survey their membership about the charter school issue. Make some noise. If you are upset with the direction PTA is taking - speak up! Let people know "Every Child, Not My Voice."

PTA Does Not Speak for Me

Anonymous said...

Sorry - I don't mean Dora specifically, but everyone who is upset with the direction PTA has taken, but doesn't know what to do about it.

PTA Does Not Speak for Me