Not your mom's PTA: Fun fundraisers yield to advocating for fundsThat's the headline of a lohud.com article spelling out out why the PTA's new focus is on defending against education spending cuts during these tough economic times. Although this new priority is understandable, I wish PTAs would spend more energy helping schools learn how to do more with less, since increasing productivity may be the best way to advocate for our children as government funding continues to feel the pressure of a faltering economy and crippling deficits.
Several straight years of budget crises that threaten to change the nature of public education have inspired the venerable PTA to modernize its approach to defending schools and students. Local and regional PTAs across the state are now trolling through legislation and contracts, fighting state-aid cuts, and meeting with lawmakers in an effort to get a seat at the lobbying table....PTA members should be reminded that higher education spending has not correlated with higher student achievement levels.
The cuts are devastating and coming at the wrong time, said Lex Kessler, a member of the Somers PTA Council. He said American kids are falling behind their peers in other countries, especially in math and science.
Somewhat surprisingly, an ex-PTA president serving as a state legislator is advocating for the tax cap.
Even Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, a Democrat from the Sound shore who started out as a PTA president decades ago, changed her position and said she is backing a cap this year so she "can be at the table" and push for mandate relief.I agree with the sentiments expressed by this comment:
Any discussion of a tax cap must address ballooning debt payments and pension and health-care costs, she said.
"I'm trying to offer some simple, but necessary changes to it," she said.
I do applaud all the PTA volunteers for their time & effort. However, their mission should not be a lobbying effort for the teachers & union.Read the entire article after the jump.
The PTA should be asking the teachers how to do more with less.
Not your mom's PTA: Fun fundraisers yield to advocating for funds12:28 AM, Mar. 31, 2011When Kimberley Debald first got involved with her local Parent-Teacher Association six years ago, the PTA agenda was mostly bake sales and dances. The serious work was the annual get-out-the-vote drive for budget season.These days, the co-president of the Harrison PTA Council has been forced to become a student of far more complex matters such as property-tax caps, labor contracts and state mandates."It's not like it used to be," Debald said. "This is not exactly co-chairing carnival night. We've learned a lot of political jargon that we wouldn't otherwise know — or care to know."Several straight years of budget crises that threaten to change the nature of public education have inspired the venerable PTA to modernize its approach to defending schools and students. Local and regional PTAs across the state are now trolling through legislation and contracts, fighting state-aid cuts, and meeting with lawmakers in an effort to get a seat at the lobbying table."Speaking with one voice is a stronger way to express ourselves," said Dr. Amany Messieha Dgheim, president of the Ramapo Central school district PTA Council. "That's what it is all about."In taking a position against state aid cuts, the PTA is going against an anti-spending movement that is sweeping through the nation's statehouses, including in Albany.Despite their efforts, PTA leaders watched in frustration as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders hammered out a budget deal that cuts education aid by more than $1.2 billion."It doesn't feel like anyone was on the side of education," said Kelly Chiarella, a Yonkers PTA member who now serves as the regional director of the Westchester-East Putnam PTA.Though they never got a sit-down with the governor, PTA leaders met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos at the Capitol to make their case. But they left with the parties and chambers blaming each other.It was a lesson in state politics 101."Politics is what this is all about," Chiarella said. "In every conversation they were blaming somebody else."But the PTA isn't done. Leaders plan to continue meeting with legislators and to take their messages to local school boards, many of which are looking at major program and staff cuts. (Yonkers, for example, is preparing to lay off 700 people, or about one-third of its workforce)."We won't stop advocating, even when the budget passes," Chiarella said. "It's a nonstop effort."The $132.5 billion budget deal would cut school aid by $1.2 billion, which is $272 million less than Cuomo proposed. It would also cap spending increases on education and Medicaid at 4 percent in 2012-13.If passed by the state Legislature, it would be the first budget in 15 years to reduce state spending.Cuomo said the budget, which closes a $10 billion deficit with no new taxes or borrowing, puts New York on the right path."This budget makes tough choices, which is what you sent me to Albany to do," Cuomo said.The governor has been particularly tough on schools, mocking superintendents as overpaid and calling on districts to dip into reserve funds to offset his aid cuts.He also supports a 2 percent property-tax cap, which would require even deeper program cuts for schools. And a state commission is studying ways to reduce the costs of government-imposed mandates.The budget deal, coming a week after the state PTA's annual conference in Albany, was a deep disappointment to state PTA President Maria Fletcher, who contends that education aid should be kept level or, at worst, minimally cut."We need to continue to alert our lawmakers of the devastating effect of this state budget," Fletcher said. "And we will do that. Shame on them!"Many school districts are now preparing to cut teachers, other staffers, and non-mandated programs such as art, music, physical education and extracurriculars. Some districts are even considering kindergarten as a place to cut.The cuts are devastating and coming at the wrong time, said Lex Kessler, a member of the Somers PTA Council. He said American kids are falling behind their peers in other countries, especially in math and science."We're facing the largest crisis in education funding. It's never been more dire," he said. "We're a billion and a half short. It's going to affect every kid. Once this is taken away from the kids, are you ever getting it back? Not in our lifetime."To have an impact, PTAs must get the ears of their local legislators."The strength of the PTA movement is that it's grassroots," said Assemblyman George Latimer, a Democrat from Rye who has long worked with local PTAs. "They're really meeting you as individuals."The PTA has also changed in other ways. It was once known as a social gathering for stay-at-home mothers. But now many PTAs are attracting more working moms and dads, including minorities."When I got involved, there weren't many men coming to meetings," said Lonnie Phillips, a vice president with Pelham's PTA and an associate director for the region, who has been involved for nearly a decade. "There weren't many men asking questions."Regardless of the makeup of the PTA, Phillips said the goal remains the same: to advocate for kids and education."You need to get a group of people together, talk to decision-makers and get it fixed," he said.Debbie Morris, treasurer of New Rochelle's PTA Council, said PTAs need to respond to an unmistakable change in the public attitude toward education."There seems to be a shift from what can we provide to what can we cut," she said.For their part, PTAs offer extensive training on how to speak to legislators.Considering the outlook for next year's budget, they may need to offer entire courses."Advocacy is the hardest part," said Merle Payne of Spring Valley, director of the PTA's Central Hudson Region, which includes Rockland County. "There are so many parts to it. You're just not thrown in."Once the budget is completed, the PTA still has to contend with Cuomo's property tax-cap proposal, which was passed by the state Senate and has some support in the Assembly.Even Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, a Democrat from the Sound shore who started out as a PTA president decades ago, changed her position and said she is backing a cap this year so she "can be at the table" and push for mandate relief.Any discussion of a tax cap must address ballooning debt payments and pension and health-care costs, she said."I'm trying to offer some simple, but necessary changes to it," she said.Kim Foskew, president of the East Ramapo PTA Council, said the PTA would be ready for what comes."We have no option," she said. "The PTA is a powerful group. It used to be about bake sales to raise money for perks. But now, to advocate for children, we'll fight fire with fire."