It’s probably you. Or could be you in the near future. And if not, then definitely some of your friends.
I’m talking about the 4 million moms, dads, teachers, community members and other concerned citizens who are currently PTA members that willingly share their precious time with their children’s schools. It’s a thankless job. As an ex-volunteer for the National Zoo, recorded newspaper reader for the blind, and Gulf Coast sea turtle rescue volunteer, I can attest to this. Any one of those past positions elicits all sorts of “oohs” and “ahs.” But ex-secretary for my son’s elementary school PTA? Not so much.
However, I can’t stress enough how critical the work is these parents do for our national public schools. All across the country, our public schools are hurting. Badly. This is not news. And the inevitable fallout from the lack of funds and lack of well-rounded programs for our children (goodbye music, art, sports) and the future detriment to our fabric of society should be obvious. Investing in our children’s education is investing in the betterment of our country as a whole. Period. This helps everyone, not just those with children.
But states love to poach funds from our schools. And this is where the love and dedication of our mostly unrecognized—and I’d argue completely undervalued—school volunteers come into play.
These are parents with little to no fundraising experience. They toil away putting together bake sales and ice cream socials, book fairs and silent auctions, the dreaded candle and wrapping paper orders, and grocery store box top collections. These events raise funds to help our public schools meet some of the most basic needs for our kids. I think this is incredible.
But, unfortunately, the needs of the public school system vary wildly, not just by state and county, but also by individual school. According to Department of Education data obtained by New York World, the median balance of the top 10 PTAs in New York City in 2013 was $768,075, compared to $1,400 for the rest of the schools. In those wealthier schools, the PTA provides opportunities and activities that have earned the schools a special name among parents and school consultants: “public privates.” According to Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, a private-school admissions company, “Many now have amenities that can compete with private school offerings.”
So, while statistics are difficult to come by, it’s safe to say that the majority of schools across the country are lacking the funds they need to meet basic objectives for our kids’ future success. Complicating matters for volunteers, PTAs also suffer from a very real image and leadership problem. “One of the biggest challenges is capacity building, leadership development and succession planning,” says Karin Kirchoff, deputy executive director for National PTA. “This is especially true for volunteer-driven organizations. With leadership being (or appearing) less than open to bringing new people into the organization, appreciating what they do and cultivating it, people are chased away.”
I asked the president of my own PTA why she does it (eight years on the PTA, six on the board.) Her response? “I do this because I was asked and there was not another person at the time running. I continue to do it to support the teachers and the school in a positive way.”
So, huge kudos to the millions of unrecognized, undervalued and underappreciated public school PTA volunteers across the country. Your struggle is real. It’s a really, really hard job. My son’s PTA president will be moving on to middle school next year. So let me just thank the new president now, whoever is asked to fill the position. Thank you. I sincerely thank all of you who step up to the PTA plate.