I find that parents are confused about what a PA (Parents Association) or a PTA (Parent/Teacher Association) really is. The responsibilities, political or financial alignment, governance, fiscal impact on the school are generally a total mystery. Check out this really awesome website, PTAlink.org that lays it all out for you.
Read the Chancellor's Regulations here (it is a big honking document, but has nuggets of totally awesome information hidden in between all the regulations for election of officials and Robert's Rules of Order).
"The Chancellor recognizes that parent leadership is the cornerstone of the public schools. PA/PTAs and Presidents’ Councils (District and HS Councils) are autonomous and self governing. School officials’ oversight of PA/PTAs and Presidents’ Councils is limited to what is necessary to implement and enforce laws, policies, rules and regulations, and to protect the rights of students, parents and staff."
"Self-determination must be the rule and not the exception when it comes to the governance of PA/PTAs. PA/PTAs are responsible for their own actions and for the conduct of their own affairs. They are not to be run by the principal or other school officials."
- that means that these organizations, which every school is required to have and every parent of a registered child is automatically a member of, are independent organizations and are not an arm of the school administration. At their best, they are an independent partner and oversight for parents in a school.
- A PA is an organization of parents and guardians in a school.
- A PTA is a PA that has expressly voted to amend their bylaws to extend membership to staff. In addition to teachers they may extend membership to paraprofessionals, school aides, school secretaries, food service workers, etc..
- Every public school must establish a PA or PTA.
- School supervisory staff (principals, assistant principals, supervisors) may NOT be members of the PA/PTA in the school where they are employed.
- While a PA/PTA may choose to solicit dues, the payment of dues cannot be a condition for participation or membership.
- PA/PTA members must be careful to avoid acting in circumstances in which their personal interests conflict with their interests as PA/PTA members.
- To ensure that the PA/PTA is the voice of all parents in the school, annual elections must be held in an inclusive manner, providing opportunity for the full and fair participation of all members.
- PA/PTAs have the right to receive full and factual information relating to student achievement and the school operation from the principal.
- PA/PTAs are entitled to free use of school buildings, including school safety or security coverage, for 110 hours per year outside of school hours.
Now we get to the money. In many people's minds, a PA/PTA is almost exclusively a fundraising organization. The regulations go on and on (as they should) about what the money can be used for, exceptions, oversight, etc. In collegial and well run schools, I have seen PA/PTA's invite well respected and beloved principals to the meetings, hat in hand, to request a grant for a special project. If the vote goes their way, they get the money, if not, they don't. I have heard stories of PA/PTAs being the puppet of school administrations and rubber stamping pet projects. That of course is less appropriate. I have seen the sad stories of PA/PTA officers who have had too little oversight or been tempted by access to ready cash that goes missing. Those are the saddest stories.
The word on the street from people who don't really know any better is that, as a parent, you should find a 'rich school' - essentially a rich PTA who they think will bank-roll lots of extra stuff for a school. That is not necessarily as definitive as it sounds. Those people have never been in a 'poor school'. I see a lot of schools, some with PTA budgets of $4000 and some with $1 million. I often see the same stuff (smart boards, Studio in a School, keyboard labs, pretty playgrounds, partnerships with educational and cultural institutions) in 'poor schools' as I do in 'rich schools'. The 'poor schools' often get Title One funding as well as grants and programs to fund these amenities. The 'rich schools' may leaning more on their PTA funds.