Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pondering PTA

We've had discussions here about the role of PTA in public education in our district.  There are several schools that are now PTOs (parent-teacher organizations) that operate solely at their schools.  Being a PTO is more work in some ways but in another way, it's better as your school gets to keep all your fund-raising dollars (without dollars going to state and national PTA.)

We've talked about trying to figure out if it would be possible to share PTA wealth from some more empowered schools since other schools have small PTAs.  (I was doing a random check and so far I haven't found a school without a PTA/PTO.)  As I previously reported, the district says that PTA grants are now well over $3M a year and that's now above some other grant providers.

Seattle PTAs have certainly taken on more and more.

But it's not just the money but how PTA at all levels seems to be different to me.

For example, I reported a couple of months back that Washington Middle School was going to have a high school event for 8th graders to introduce them to what life will be like going to high school.  One speaker was going to be the head of Summit Sierra, a charter high school in Seattle.  I called foul on that because why would a PTA bring in a school that is clearly competing with SPS?  (I was told PTA is a private org and can invite whoever they like.  While true, there is an oddness to this situation.)

One side note: Apparently that would not have been Summit's first visit to Washington as they were at last year's 8th grade event.  I wonder if the Summit rep told those parents about the lawsuit.  Probably not.

As well, I was told by someone in PTA that a few schools have 5th grade events where they even invite private schools in.  I believe in being helpful to parents but it seems a little counterproductive for your own school.

So isn't PTA's first goal to support public education?  Apparently not.  I checked at the national PTA website as well as spoke to their Communications department.  From the website:

Mission and Values
The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.
Of the five "values" only one mentions education:
Commitment: We are dedicated to children’s educational success, health, and well-being through strong family and community engagement, while remaining accountable to the principles upon which our association was founded.
The Communications person said that while education is a main focus, they are also concerned about the "whole child" which includes health, safety, etc. 

Under their History, though, they say this:
Today’s PTA is a network of millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of family engagement in schools.
So you can see my confusion because I had always thought of PTA as an education organization.

And meanwhile, national PTA just accepted a large Gates grant to promote Common Core.  From the Gates Foundation website:
National PTA is positioning itself as a key player at the front line of education reform.  The association today announced a new three-year effort to mobilize parents to advance key education priorities, beginning with common core state standards—a voluntary, state-led, internationally benchmarked set of high academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. A $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help support the effort.
 It's not just Gates.  It's partnerships with McDonalds, Pearson and Microsoft.

A third issue is what the state PTA is doing about legislative advocacy.

Every year there's a legislative session for PTAs to decide what to advocate for in the Washington state legislature.  There's a process by which PTAs can submit ideas.

One thing that has changed since I was in PTA is that the process has gotten longer with more hoops to jump thru.  You have to create a PowerPoint and a "tri-fold presentation board." You also have to create an "action plan" and be prepared to go to Olympia.  I'm not sure all this is possible for many, many PTAs especially smaller ones with few resources.  

And then there is this:
All issue submitters (sic) must sign the Issue Team Code of Conduct
What's the code?
What is a Code of Conduct? A code of conduct is a set of guiding principles that act as a benchmark for professional behavior. It is a promise to adhere to the values we all share as WSPTA members such as honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, and compassion. 
 Okay, sounds good.
As a WSPTA issue submitter, I promise to abide by the fundamental values that underpin all the activities of this organization and remember that it is all about the children of Washington State.
Then there's talk of integrity/honesty, accountability, transparency - all important things. But then it gets to the nitty-gritty(partial):
I will not break the law or go against nonprofit regulations in any aspect of my role as an issue team member.

I will support the mission of WSPTA and consider myself its guardian.

I will abide by and represent our WSPTA bylaws, WSPTA policies, positions, procedures, purposes, and mission statement.
I will not break the law, go against nonprofit regulations or act in disregard of organizational policies in my relationships with fellow issue team members, school staff, volunteers, fellow WSPTA members or anyone I come into contact with in my role as WSPTA issue submitter.
Wait, what? Break the law when submitting a legislative proposal?  How did it get to that point?  Are there PTA members bribing lawmakers?

Here's the kicker:
IV. Protecting the organization's reputation

I will not speak as an issue team member of this WSPTA to the media or in a public forum without the prior knowledge and approval of the WSWSPTA President. However, I still maintain all rights to speak as a private citizen in such forums.

When prior consent has not been obtained, I will inform the President at once when I have spoken as a WSPTA issue submitter to the media or in a public forum.

When I am speaking as a WSPTA issue submitter, my comments will reflect current organizational policy and positions even when these do not agree with my personal views.

When speaking as a private citizen I will strive to uphold the reputation of the WSPTA and those who work in it.

I will respect WSPTA, issue team and individual confidentiality.

I will not share working copies of documents or other organizational information until those materials have been finalized and are available for release to the general public.
VII. Leaving the issue team 

I understand that substantial breach of any part of this code may result in my removal from the issue team.
I can certainly understand that the WSPTA does not want various members to be speaking out of turn for issues that PTA is advocating.  But if you are just submitting a idea, you need all this?  And who decides what's a "substantial breach?" 

To me the message from WSPTA is, well, WE control the message, from inception to final outcome.

This kind of chokehold on member ideas/thoughts seems to favor those in power and those who have the wherewithal to get their ideas formulated to the formula that the WSPTA created. 

I was a PTA member all thru my children's school years.  I served on every school's board or committee.  I was a co-president at Roosevelt for two years.

But all of this - bringing in non-SPS schools, unit PTAs being more about supplying basics to schools rather than enhancements and this heavy-handedness from the state - makes me sad.  It makes me think if my kids were still in school today, if I might not advocate the PTO route at my school.


Tiny Tribe said...

It's likely some of the school's shoved switched to a PTO did so because of lack of parental involvement and not because they didn't want to contribute funds. I'm on the PTA at Gatewood in WS and a few meetings ago, when it looked like we may not have any parents willing to be on the board next year, we discussed the option of becoming a PTO instead. Our sole reason was lack of parental involvement. Luckily for us, at our last meeting we had some parents step up to the plate and it's no longer an issue..... THIS year anyway. ;)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good to know. I do know Ingraham, which has a large and active PTA, switched to PTO for more control over funds and how they are spent.

mirmac1 said...

Unfortunately, central administrators think they do not have to collaborate with other organizations, besides PTAs.

Minor correction: fundraising money does not go to State and National PTA - only the bulk of the membership fee. Membership fees should not be considered fundraising monies.

love2teachstl said...

I don't know about all schools, but I know for a fact that Bailey Gatzert does not have a PTA/PTO.

Anonymous said...

Hale switched to PTO to avoid all the training and fees you have to do for a PTA. It was also noted that the national PTA organization was getting very chummy with reform groups. It was felt that the PTA organization no longer represented Hale parents but rather Bill Gates.