I’m a PTA President: Well, Somebody Has to Do It
I am the PTA president at my daughter’s school. I wish I could say I ran some kind of strategic campaign, but I didn’t. I didn’t run a campaign, period. I was made president under a certain amount of duress. Outside of her classroom, my daughter’s first grade teacher practically begged for me to do it, and Keith our dad-about-campus and PTA parliamentarian and therefore head of the PTA nominating committee, hunted me down on the playground and via the telephone nearly every day for about three weeks. I caved. And so I used the same argument I use for myself when I bitterly clean the toilet after my husband and I have a toilet-cleaning standoff: “Well somebody has to do it.”
It is the same in many schools, PTA boards scraped together with parents pled, cajoled and entreated into office. I understand I was not chosen on merit, merely I seemed a soft touch and also I have an English accent, which tends to make things go down a little easier to the American ear I’ve discovered. Which is good, because I swear a lot. Not in front of children, but pretty much anywhere else. In my first meeting with our principal, the top of my agenda was that the PTA meetings would not go on for two hours. If they did, I assured him, I would get a gun and shoot my #*!%ing head off. I said that.
We are a new PTA unit. The unit is the school; a council is a group of PTA units; a district is a group of councils and then there is State and then National PTA. The PTA’s mission is to act as advocate for the education and well-being of all children. As cynical as I still manage to be, and I admit my cynicism is incredibly diluted since having children, I find it a noble mission. The PTA at the national level is a voice in Washington D.C. — our First Lady just cited the PTA as a resource for military families, struggling with having their families separated. They are a known and respected organization which lobbies for our kids, as much as it legally can while operating as a non-profit. And there, I suspect, is the main reason that most schools join the PTA. As a huge non-profit organization, we get to reap the benefits of their inexpensive insurance. It is not a righteous reason, but it’s pragmatic. Our unit just sent in the payment for our school of about $190. That’s approximate. And it’s cheap. Do you know how much insurance is if you want to hold a Halloween Carnival? Well it’s more frightening than anything else concerned with Halloween.
But there too is the disconnect which exists within the PTA. At the local level it is carnivals and spaghetti nights, bake sales and basket raffles and at the national level it is Washington politics. With these lofty aspirations for our children, which, granted, can really only be seriously considered in Washington, comes much bureaucracy. As a grass roots organization I know most volunteers and most units just want to bake some brownies and cheer their kids on at the annual jogathon. My feeling thus far is that there are two PTAs: the one up there and the one down here. I’m in the “down here” along with most of the parents I know. I have a friend who’s “up there” and regularly visits Sacramento to let them know how she thinks they are letting down our schools. But it seems to me, you need to have as much “up there” gusto to run the grass roots part of the PTA and that is why so many schools can barely get a board together. Volunteering sucks. And, yeah, yeah I know there are keen bean schools out there. Good for them. And I mean that totally sincerely, although equally resentfully.
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