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?


March 5, 2009. the joys of PTA.


  1. urbanartiste replied:

    This is a major problem in education and I think the entire system needs to overhauled. Personally, I think it is ridiculous that any parent or other type of organization is needed to raise funds for schools for anything.

    There is a great bumper sticker that says something about “how would the airforce feel if they had to run a bake sale to fund their airplanes” or something to that effect.

    The PTA where I live is very competitive and petty and I am avoiding it at all costs. There are things that the PTA makes decisions on that I feel the teacher and administration should be responsible for such as deciding which parents get to go on school trips and funding for a playground. Things can easily get corrupt, petty and undemocratic. It is important for parents to be involved with schools, but sometimes it creates more chaos and stress than necessary.

    On another note, due to the economy PTA fundraising will be needed even more, but will likely produce little results.

  2. jackie replied:

    Landismom, I’m so sorry to hear that. Here’s hoping you get some really dynamic fundraisers/grantwriters soon to saddle up and try and preserve as much as you can.

  3. Jennifer (ponderosa) replied:

    Oh, I don’t know how ridiculous it is that parents donate money to their kids’ schools. Isn’t it with dollars that Americans show their support for things?

    I’d guess that the schools which really need money don’t get it from the PTA, whereas in other schools the funds provided by the PTA are kind of — I don’t want to say fluff — they’re for the extra things that make school more fun, like field trips and (in the case of my son’s school) Art in a Box.

    BTW I wish our PTA would pay for field trips. My son’s been on 2 field trips this year & I was told to pay $5 for each of them — and with that note was a request for additional funds to cover any child who “forgets” to pay.

    In Oregon we’re facing major financial shortfalls, too. I haven’t seen a letter like you describe but I expect one any day.

  4. Jennifer (ponderosa) replied:

    BTW if this is part 1, does that mean there’ll be a part 2? I’ve been surprised by how no personal bloggers (at least none that I read) are writing about the recession. Myself included, of course. (It’s affecting us big time — I just haven’t had the energy to write about it. Too depressing to live it AND write about it.)

  5. the five-year mark « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] March, I posted a couple of times about the effects of the recession, on the kids’ school and the number of people that I knew who were looking for work. We also welcomed a new niece to the […]

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