economic woes, part 1

Elizabeth had a post up the other day entitled, “What does the PTA pay for?,” and I decided to just write a post responding to it, rather than an extra-long comment. You should check out her post, though–there’s a good discussion of privilege.

The biggest-ticket items that our PTA pays for are field trips (we cover both the buses and the cost of admission for the venue) and in-school assemblies. We also pay for stuff like (very minor) academic awards–basically the senior who has the highest GPA and went to our elementary school gets a $200 savings bond, and we give a smaller one to the highest-GPA’d eighth grader at the middle school promotion. We pay for flowers for a sick teacher, and for gift cards for the music teachers at the biannual concerts. We pay for snacks for back-to-school nights, and give each teacher something like $125 per year to buy extra supplies for their classroom. Our overall budget is less than $20,000–it’s not a huge school, and the socio-economic status of kids in our catchment area ranges from solidly middle class to downright poor.

We live in a state where it’s still more common than not for there to be music and art teachers in the schools, where there are still lots of extracurricular activities, and computers in every classroom. We don’t live in the greatest school district in our area, nor do we live in the worst. One of the decisions that landisdad and I made when we decided where to live was to stay in a place with more racial and economic diversity, and less cutthroat academic competition. Overall, while we’ve had our ups and downs with individual teachers, we’ve been happy with our kids’ academic experience so far.

Last week, though, our school community received a very disturbing letter from our superintendent and the president of the board of education, where they listed the kinds of items that might be on the chopping block in next year’s budget. That list included things like: athletics at both the high school & middle school; full-day kindergarten (currently provided by our district but not required by the state); the district’s pre-K program for developmentally challenged children (again, not required but provided now); the purchase of new textbooks; and a host of other things.

I confess, that got me to thinking about the things that our PTA might be asked to raise money for next year (and while I’m confessing, I might as well confess to breathing a sigh of relief that I will not be the president anymore!). Not field trips, but essential supplies for the schools. Or paying for the half-day kindergarten aide. Or funding lunches for kids that show up without their lunch money (which right now is done by the district).

I’m not sure there’s that much room to grow in our budget. Our biggest fundraiser every year is a bingo, and the majority of people who come to that are coming because they’re bingo fanatics–I’d say a good 80% of the crowd are not, and have never been, parents of children at our school. It’s a great fundraiser, but it happened because a really good PTA mom put together a really great fundraiser 9 or 10 years ago, and it’s kept growing since then. This year, though, we had a slightly lower attendance–and I have to wonder, if the recession continues, how much longer will people who don’t have a kid in our school be willing to pay $25 to play bingo?

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March 5, 2009. the joys of PTA. 5 comments.