Monday, January 21, 2019

The Many Voices Of PTA

As most readers know, I have been a long-time PTA member and supporter.  Just as I am both cheerleader and critic to Seattle Public Schools, so I am to PTA. 

At this point in time it appears that PTA in Seattle Schools is in flux. 

A small number of schools have abandoned PTA and are not PTOs (Parent-Teacher Organizations, independent of PTA).  I hear from some readers near-weekly about their school considering going this route.

SCPTSA, over the last couple of years, has lost about 800 members.  That is a huge number and probably devastating to the organization in terms of money and advocacy.
I cannot say for certain why this has happened.  I know some of it could be that school PTAs increasingly do not see the value of what the local, state and national PTA boards can offer to their schools. 

They may not like being lectured to about their fundraising.  Until there is a real and calm discussion about fundraising-sharing and what that might look like, hectoring parents on sharing may not be the best method to make that happen.

On January 19th, the Seattle Council PTSA endorsed to the two SPS levies coming up in a Feb. election.  That's fairly late for one of the bigger organizations attached to SPS. 

They have two statements; a shorter one at Facebook and a longer one at their website.  They say not a single specific thing about the levies themselves but say on Facebook:
  • We will continue to highlight the problematic intersection of school levies for families of color who suffer the greatest opportunity gap and are most likely to suffer economic impacts of regressive taxation.
  • We will continue to prioritize advocacy of a racial equity-based financial analysis, modeling, and distribution alongside specific and ongoing engagement of families of color regarding funding equity in Seattle Public Schools. 
  • SCPTSA supports a Capital Gains Tax and a Working Families Tax Credit to, respectively, fund and restore the burden of this and other regressive taxes.  
Here's some of what they say at their webpage:
  • Families of color are not targeted or holistically engaged in the education funding models and applications at the District, nor to inform how the District engages with state lawmakers. For example, the five public Levy meetings in September did not target or authentically engage families of color.  (Editor's note: I don't think the levy meetings targeted or authentically engaged anyone.)
  • Outside funding sources continue to sustain, create, and mask inequities at the building and central office levels.  (I'm thinking this may be a swipe at PTA fund raising/spending but hard to know.)
They go on:

1. For families of color and those furthest from justice, SCPTSA supports the passage of Seattle School District’s property tax levies BEX V and EO&P with the understanding that we will push for:
  • A transparent, ongoing and formal commitment with Seattle Public Schools, actively engaging students and families, to acknowledge, resolve, restore and report racial incidents in our schools as they occur. This is a fundamental building block of SPS commitment to creating “welcoming environments” and policy 0030 Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity. Racial Discrimination has no place in Seattle Public Schools. When children walk through the door of SPS, it is not consistently true that they will be cared for in the event of racial discrimination. The “threat” of impact is suitably muzzled when a parent or a child cannot enter a school space and find it figuratively open or welcoming because of who they are.
2.  Formal commitment from SPS Administration to partner with SCPTSA, SEA, Seattle School Board and OSPI in the transparent and rigorous analysis of funding equity in Seattle Public Schools including:
  • Detailed reporting on outside funding sources and their use, including, but not limited to, PTAs, PTOs, foundations and CBOs
  • Analysis and reporting on strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in financial modeling and distribution in SPS specifically pertaining to racial equity
  • Analysis of Weighted Staffing Standard based on Equity gap analysis
  • Specific and ongoing engagement with families of color regarding funding equity in Seattle Public Schools
I think it good to know this information but I think what will be found is that Title One schools get federal funds that are sharply curtailed to certain spending and that non-Title One schools tend to get more funding from PTAs. 

I think it would also be shown that the bulk of money from foundations and CBOs goes to Title One schools.  What would be great to examine is how those dollars are spent. 

3. Support for efforts such as Capital Gains and Working Families Tax Rebate at state and local levels to respectively alleviate and mitigate the regressive tax burden on our most economically disadvantaged families. While the District can’t control State lawmakers, it can and should acknowledge the burden placed on the families and staff of SPS as a result of limited fundraising mechanisms.

I agree; the district does not pay near enough gratitude to all the funding that PTAs and PTOs pour into SPS.  Nor enough thanks for all the volunteer work done at schools, most from members of PTA/PTO.  Nor enough acknowledgment of all the funding that booster clubs pour into programs.

I also wanted to note a similarity in phrasing from the district's Strategic Plan:

Unequivocal commitment to fiscal transparency. When we focus on ensuring racial equity in our educational system, unapologetically address the needs of students of color who are furthest from educational justice 

And this from SCPTSA:

As advocates for all kids, our obligation is to advocate specifically for those who are furthest from justice in attaining equitable access to education. 

Maybe this isn't such a coincidence as the head of SCPTSA is on the Strategic Plan committee. 

Also to note on the new Strategic Plan since I first wrote about the draft Strategic Plan, staff has since added a definition for "educational justice": 

Educational justice requires safe learning environments, curriculum that incorporates a student’s life experiences and culture, and instruction delivered by high-quality, culturally competent educators. Many students from certain ethnicities have not historically experienced equitable opportunities for all or part of their educational journey (including African and African American, Asian Pacific Islander, LatinX, and Native students). These students are our priority.

And I see by the list of community meetings on the Strategic Plan that they are holding to that priority as I see that seven out of the eight community meetings are in the south end.  Here's a list of the final ones (unless they have more in Feb. but I doubt it).  I cannot believe that the only meeting in the north end for this process is on a Friday at a church. Weird.

Tues., Jan. 22, 5:30 - 7 p.m.
Co-hosted with Somali Moms and Horn of Africa
New Holly Gathering Hall
7054 32nd Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98118

Fri., Jan. 25, 4:30 - 6 p.m.
All Seattle Public Schools community meeting
Co-hosted with Seattle Council PTSA
Seattle Mennonite Church
3120 NE 125th St, Seattle, WA 98125

Mon., Jan. 28, 5 - 6:30 p.m.
Native American community-focused meeting
Graham Hill Elementary
5149 S Graham St., Seattle, WA 98118


Anonymous said...

So Melissa, what's your point? I feel like every time you get the chance to take a swipe at Chandra Hampson, you do it. What drives you? Wouldn't it be better and more productive to unify forces? You like to think of yourself as an expert in all SPS issues. If you are, please enlighten us. But enough with your conspiracy theories. Put them to rest. Focus on the students. I believe in you.
Fed up

Melissa Westbrook said...

Fed Up, my point is what I wrote.

- has lost membership hugely and may continue to do so if more schools go PTO
- there have been discussions here and elsewhere about PTA fundraising sharing but not much from SCPTSA
- the district has two of their major levies coming up and the SCPTSA's endorsement is certainly not akin to ones in the past. That's new.

I don't think I'm an expert on everything in SPS; never said that, never thought that. I depend on readers and teachers and others to help fill me in. No one person can be everywhere and know everything in this district.

I offered no conspiracy theories but I do offer evidence of what groups say to the district and vice versa.

It's not my job to unify anyone and of all groups, SCPTSA would be the last one to listen to me. It's their job really.

What drives me? That would take a long time to explain. I think it's that people can't believe I've hung in here this long. I think the length of my tenure in public education in Seattle should speak for itself. That plus the fact that I never ran for office nor tried to profit financially.

I'm wondering if the swipe you describe is the one you appear to be taking at me.

Anonymous said...

Here are some reasons I have heard from parents who led the switch from PTA to PTO at their schools:

They want all parents at their school to be able to join, even if they can't afford to pay dues, and PTA requires that every member pay dues.

They don't think the dues that get sent to the state and national PTA provide good value.

They want full control of any funds raised by the PTO, to ensure that the funds are spent entirely for the benefit of students within the school.

They have tried to participate in the state PTA organization, and have found far too many barriers to participation. In particular, they have found that influencing the state PTA agenda requires too much investment of time and money to establish credentials and to travel to meetings, and members without substantial financial resources are often excluded.

They have not found that the training that PTA requires is of value to them.

I don't necessarily agree that all of these are good reasons, but they have come up over and over again.


Anonymous said...

Some thoughts...

SCPTSA needs to make a strong case for the levies, not just a begrudging "yeah I guess" endorsement. If they are serious about educational justice they will understand that it is impossible to provide educational justice if the district has to cut 22% from its budget if the operations levy fails. And the BEX project list was developed with educational justice in mind, to the point that some schools with obvious needs like Whitman didn't get included. Which is fine, but if they want equity in spending, they got it in BEX, they need to go defend it and make sure it passes. If SCPTSA isn't going all out to pass these levies then it will be hard to take seriously anything else they say about educational justice.

WA State PTA was taken over by right-wing and Republican interests a decade or so ago, and so they have been absent on the key education issues in Olympia. Nowhere to be found on McCleary. Nowhere to be found on testing. Nowhere to be found on Common Core. Nowhere to be found on lunch and recess times. The leadership has made it very difficult for parents to be effective by working through that organization.

Chandra Hampson is planning to run for school board this fall when Jill Geary steps down. She seems to be shaping SCPTSA's actions with that upcoming campaign in mind, rather than focusing on what students and parents need. And at times the SCPTSA leadership seem quite hostile to PTAs at the schools in Seattle. And if the levies fail, it will be hard to take her seriously as a candidate given that SCPTSA has not been mobilizing at full strength to pass them.

All in all it's easy to see why people are leaving the PTA and instead setting up as PTOs. Both the WA and the Seattle PTA orgs are not acting as if parent involvement is welcome and are trying to play insider games by cozying up to power rather than being bold and strong advocates for schools.

Farmer Dan

Anonymous said...

Farmer Dan,
You say at times the SCPTSA leadership seem quite hostile to PTAs at the schools in Seattle and Both the WA and the Seattle PTA orgs are not acting as if parent involvement is welcome , care to elaborate?

Fed up

Anonymous said...

The screaming of racism at the drop of the hat, to people you do not actually know, is a great reason to steer clear of scptsa. A bunch of white people calling other white people racist without really finding out the basis for their varied opinions will never be useful to any cause other than losing members. Actually a bit comical. Also a good way to be steamrollered by the district.

Good Luck

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good Luck, the majority of the SCPTSA Board is people of color.

Farmer Dan, Hampson in Geary's spot? Well,expect more of the same then. Just like Blanford; a lot of expressive, crusader talk without a lot of action/outcome. I really like Director Geary; she's a smart person. But I gave up a long time ago expecting much from her.

"Both the WA and the Seattle PTA orgs are not acting as if parent involvement is welcome and are trying to play insider games by cozying up to power rather than being bold and strong advocates for schools."

I would agree with this.

It's weird that the district doesn't give enough credit to school PTAs on both the money and parent involvement. PTA makes a difference in this district and that should be celebrated.

I think the current SCPTSA board does want to encourage PTAs to action but only the action they stamp "approved." What I have learned over the years is PTA is very school-centric and it is hard to get schools to act in unison if the Council is indifferent to their concerns.

Of course when we have schools with no PTAs and the mission of the PTA is to be in every school, that's an important focus. When we have kids who have been historically underserved by the district, SCPTSA is a good place to push for better and get the focus on those students.

But, like the district in its new Strategic Plan, they seem to forget that ALL kids in this district need to be served. It's the law. There can't be a "those kids will always be okay" attitude because that makes it easy for the district to not serve all kids.

In terms of sharing fund-raising dollars, I believe SCPTSA is trying to gather information on PTAs and their funding. They can probably get most of that from PTAs themselves (I'd be surprised at a PTA that said no to sharing their budgeting with SCPTSA) and from the district who knows how much they get from any given school and what it is spent on. They will likely not be able to get a budget or fundraising totals from any booster club or foundation except perhaps in broad strokes but the district should have to reveal how much those clubs/foundations put in and where it goes.

As to how to come to the table to discuss sharing funds, I'll be interested to see what framing SCPTSA uses. If it's to harangue or shame, then I don't think many PTAs will sign on. I'm not talking Seattle Nice but I am saying hitting someone over the head with a baseball bat of rhetoric will tend to make people back away.

I don't think it betrays ideals to be civil and try to find consensus.

Anonymous said...

last night on MLK day, I watched an interview on PBS with the leader of the Poor People's Campaign. he quoted statistics that I believe many people are unaware. 140 million people in the US are poor and the overwhelming majority of those people are whites, women and children. Various people of color are over-represented in poor communities, but so often I feel poor whites are left out of the conversation especially in affluent cities such as Seattle. Reading the Seattle PTA page and their stated exclusion of including all poor kids and families including all sub-groups of Asians and Whites is one example. Until we become much more inclusive we will continue to have issues with tribalism and an us versus them mentality in this country. People need to understand what unites them together as Americans. Trump's election because of this tribalism has been brutal to poor and working people of all races.

Big Picture

Anonymous said...


Your criticisms of WSPTA might have some merit in ways, but you seem unaware of much that WSPTA is actually actively taking on! Lunch and recess initiatives specifically were adopted at this year's legislative assembly (scroll down to 2019 Supported Issues):


That means those issues are guaranteed to come up in their lobbying. On McCleary, WSPTA is part of NEWS, one of the original litigants:


See also here for information on Common Core and other advocacy:


My diagnosis of WSPTA is the opposite of yours, actually. It's not that WSPTA has been absent on issues. Instead, it's that Seattle has been absent from WSPTA, and absent from lots of other state level education conferences and meetings and events. More often than not, no one shows up from Seattle at these state level things. Even at the WSPTA legislative assembly, Seattle's voting delegation was weirdly small given Seattle's size and the sheer number of PTAs in Seattle. My guess is only about half of Seattle schools had delegates present. WSPTA takes action based on resolutions and initiatives adopted annually at the legislative assembly. If Seattle isn't participating in that, if Seattle isn't putting forth resolutions, Seattle's needs and views aren't reflected.

Seattle needs to wake up and start participating in state level organizations more. That doesn't mean we need random bureaucrats doing stuff. That means us, parents, participating in state level organizations. We aren't doing that. There are some serious obstacles to participation, undoubtedly, things WSPTA needs to look at, but participation is still crucial.

PTA Needs Seattle

Eric B said...

When I last looked at going to a WSPTA convention, it was surprisingly difficult for someone with childcare responsibilities. At the time, there was no option for child care at the convention. When I asked about it, it was like the idea had never occurred to them. That's frankly weird for an organization that is almost entirely composed of parents of school-aged children.

Irene's list of complaints sounds very familiar.

Big G. said...

This is the weirdest "endorsement" I've ever seen. It basically says, "We hate taxes. We love a few of the children in the city. Taxes hurt them the most. Vote for this tax."

What kind of messaging is that? OMG!

Anonymous said...

From the SCPTSA's statement:

"Families of color are not targeted or holistically engaged in the education funding models and applications at the District, nor to inform how the District engages with state lawmakers."

Can the district really target funding based on race? Income, I could see, but race? Is SCPTSA advocating to fund schools based on their racial demographics? That sounds


Anonymous said...

Also fromSCPTSA:

"Outside funding sources continue to sustain, create, and mask inequities at the building and central office levels."

Inequities at the central office level? I wonder what this means?


Big G. said...

Maybe they're talking about the Alliance for Education, Satturberg, and Nesholm Foundation money? Or all the GoFundMe and DonorsChoose fundraising? Or maybe they mean their own PTSA fundraising efforts? Schools also have self help accounts. Maybe that?

SCPTSA says it has 14,000 members. And apparently because I joined my kid's PTA I'm one of them. I don't feel like they're representing my views very well. Or very clearly.

Anonymous said...

SCPTSA needs to explain to those 14,000 members why they don't think advocacy for the operations levy is a priority.

SCPTSA further needs to explain to the schools that got prioritized under the BEX levy - in which racial equity was the primary factor, as it should have been - why the passage of their levy isn't all that important. SCPTSA says on the one hand that "Families of color are not targeted or holistically engaged in the education funding models and applications at the District" but when that is addressed directly in the BEX levy, SCPTSA doesn't actually show up to make sure that a better policy that conforms to their goals and values is funded and approved by the voters.

It's really difficult to take SCPTSA seriously. They seem more interested in settling scores and blaming other parents rather than actually doing the work to protect this district. Their bare minimum approach to these levies is revealing. They won't step up even when a BEX levy is shaped according to what they want.

Farmer Dan

Anonymous said...

I find it a little disturbing that no one knows about SCPTSA and that it doesn't have some kind of built-in representational structure so that its own membership has any say in its mission and direction and whatever. That would be an "F" in outreach.

But I guess it all makes sense if you think of it as a politburo. As a politburo, the SCPTSA is terrific.


kellie said...

Thanks for raising this issue Mel.

When my children started in SPS, it was the days of NCLB and the focus on standardized testing. While this effort was rooted in an attempt to create "good schools" for poor children, it swiftly became a "war on teachers."

The hard work of mitigating the impact of poverty is real work that requires focus and funding. It is so much easier to play the blame game. The blame game seems to have shifted to blaming parents and the blame on parents seems to be intensifying every year.

There is this new rhetoric that parents and the choices parents make - advanced learning, fundraising, volunteering, option schools, moving to the suburbs, etc, is the cause of inequity. That rhetoric is just as disingenuous and distracting as the war on teachers.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well said, Kellie.

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