Thursday, March 18, 2010

Free Education Isn't Free

No one locally reads my blog, so I'm going to vent a little here. I know you love it when I do that. Sort of. Maybe.

Anyway, this year I am on our PTA board. I didn't volunteer to do it. I'm not that selfless. I agreed to do it because I was asked. And because no one else wanted to do it. In fact, no one wanted to be in any PTA position this year. The four of us who comprise the board pretty much did it because if we hadn't, our PTA would have been leaderless this year.

Colorado is crazy low in state funding for schools. Like 45th out of 50 or something like that. I looked it up several years ago and was appalled at how low it was. And yet we still moved here. Go figure. With that said, I love the school the boys go to. It's about 50 yards from our house; I like the teachers; I like the people we've met there; I don't mind giving my time (within reason) to be there and make it a better place. In addition to being on the board, I'm the PR chair, I'm on the Green Team, a part of which is the Healthy Food committe, which I co-chair. I provide food for teacher conferences and teacher appreciation week. I help set up and clean up for the meals we provide. I coordinate a team of people who provide treats for every teacher on their birthday. I volunteer at the school dances, either Eamonn or I chaperone field trips, and between the two of us, we attend and provide food or supplies for every class party. I volunteer at the big end of year party/festival. I'm also on a district committee to overhaul the school lunch program. Blah blah blah. I volunteer a lot. I do it because I think it's important, not because I want people to say, "Wow, she's a good volunteer." I do it because the school needs it. But it takes a lot of time.

And parents' time is what is needed. The school is good, but it, like any school, needs help from parents to make it great. It needs help from parents in a time capacity and a dollar capacity.

So as I said, our school funding isn't great anyway, but with all of the decreases in property taxes these past years (it's a trend that will continue), we've got to make up the difference somehow. We somehow have to help students pay for field trips--each year we receive more requests for financial assistance--help teachers provide materials for their classrooms, fund various curriculum like science and the greenhouse, etc. The money has to come from somewhere. And as much as I'd like to conjure it out of my. . .own wallet, I can't.

Our PTA meets once a month. There's always a lot to talk about--school safety, upcoming events, how money is being raised and spent, activities updates, etc. We try to have our meetings last no longer than 90 minutes, but sometimes they run long. I don't like that, but it's not like we're sitting around talking about doing our hair and nails--we're discussing what needs to be done and when to raise the money we need to provide our kids with the education and opportunities we'd like them to have.

Our meetings have low turnout. Lower than any other school in the district. Last month, the board and one other person was there. Please. The ridiculous thing is that we are the largest school in the district, other than the high school.

What gives?

I was curious. So we developed an online survey and sent it out to parents. They still have another day to respond, but as of tonight, about 96 people have responded. Which is actually better than I expected (we have more than 480 students). So far, I'm the only one to have seen the results. And I feel annoyed. And I'm going to address some of the ridiculous answers here in a sarcastic and annoyed manner. I'm venting to you because I can't vent in this way to the people who wrote these things. Instead, I'll have to write them a nice letter addressing some of these issues. I'll have to say something like:

Dear Parents,
In the PTA survey, you indicated that having on-site childcare would encourage you attend PTA meetings. Good news! We do offer on-site childcare. We hire two babysitters at each meeting to entertain your children. So please come join us.

What I'd really like to say to address their many misconceptions, including childcare is:

Dear Parents,
Are you fricking kidding me? Clearly you haven't opened your child's backpack or read an e-mail from the school yet this millenium because if you did, you wouldn't have responded "The PTA does not keep me informed of its meetings or activities." We sent home flyers. We posted signs. We sent e-mails. The principal puts it in her newsletter and on her e-board. And still, you do not come to meetings. You accused us of wasting paper, so we switched to e-mails and a sandwich board in front of the school. And yet, you do not come. Please tell us what you need. Door-to-door solicitation? A tattoo on your child's forehead? Maybe we should drive through the neighborhood with a bullhorn at midnight? You tell me what works for you because I'm just sitting around waiting to do EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED. And as for childcare? We've offered that for years. All I have to say to that is DUH. Read the flyer/e-mail/notice board/the principal's e-board. Should I go on about all of the different ways you can read this information that we basically force feed you?

I loved your suggestion that there should be more working moms and dads on the PTA board. I do wonder how much more they should work? Our president works two jobs. Our VP works two jobs. I work two jobs. Our treasurer must be a slacker though--she only works one job. Yes, we are all moms. How strange. Oh wait, no dads even come to the meetings. We put up a big DADS sign on the door with a Ghostbusters symbol on it. Do you think that drives them away? We should probably stop doing that.

To the person who commented, "I heard people don't get along at the meetings." I don't even know how to address that. No one is strapping on the boxing gloves and duking it out. Although I think that sounds like fun. Do we always agree? No. But I can't think of a single example in the 3 1/2 years my kids have been here that things got out of hand, or even became disrespectful. I don't know what happened in the past, but maybe if you came to a meeting instead of talking about what you heard, you could make a decision for yourself.

To the people who commented they don't like the current leadership, then get off your ass, come to a meeting and volunteer to be a part of the leadershp team yourself. If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem. I hate it when people spout cliches.

To the people who commented it seems like it's the same group of people doing all PTA activities, well, yeah! It's because no one new seems willing to volunteer. I do realize that at the beginning of the year, you filled out that questionnaire saying you'd help with X, Y, Z event. Well, maybe when we e-mail you, you could actually respond and agree to help instead of not answering.

To the people who commented we're clickish and political, my response is how do you know? I didn't even know the other people on the board before we started working on this together. We don't hang out. We've grown to like each other as we've worked together, but we're not friends. Our only common thread is PTA and realizing there wasn't anyone else who was willing to do this stuff.

To the person who said PTA dismisses ideas and doesn't listen. Are you the same person who says that PTA doesn't know when to stop discussing something and let it lie? Let's decide--are we over or under-analyzing things? When someone brings up an idea and we don't accept it, after much discussion, why do you think that is? Do you think maybe it's because we've been living and breathing this stuff 24/7, know all of the background, history, and financial issues involved, and maybe you don't because you just came to this meeting for the first time? Like when you suggested there should be a Spanish program. You mean like the one that's offered after school? That's not to say we're not interested in new ideas--we are. We'd love it if people had ideas instead of just coming in and being critical when they've never even been to a meeting before. Or paid attention to anything the school sends home.

Many of you said you don't have time to be involved. Seriously? Because, I do. I have oodles of time to spend doing unpaid work when I should be making a living. And really? You don't have one hour a month to help chaperone a dance that will raise money for YOUR CHILD to take a field trip or have an assembly or get a new science book? You'd rather be home on the couch instead of chaperoning a dance? Guess what? Me, too. Because as much as I'd like to say I LOVE to spend all my time at the school, I don't. And I feel resentful that you ATTEND PTA events with your children, but you can't seem to volunteer for even a 20 minute shift to help out and take the burden off the same 15 people who always volunteer because they know if they don't do it, no one will.

Maybe PTA should just disband. Maybe when your child's teacher submits a request for 20 students to attend a science/nature hike with the science school, we should shrug and say we're out of money because no one would help. During Teacher Appreciation week, we'll have to tell teachers no one volunteered to bring a meal, or set up, or clean up. We can just order pizza for them like we had to last time. But wait, we can't order pizza because we're out of money. They can brown bag it. That's the way to show our appreciation.

In the survey, you indicated that you see PTA as important to our school. Then act like it. Because the same 15 parents cannot keep shouldering the burden for the rest of you. We work. We have kids in sports. We have to make dinner. Our kids have to get to bed. All of it. So my response to those excuses? Boo Frickin' Hoo. Unless you're a single welfare parent working three jobs and raising five kids by working the night shift at a factory, you've got no excuse. If it's important to you, you'll make it work. You're tired. I'm tired. We're all tired. Some of us are even sick and tired. But if each person volunteered just one hour a month, maybe we'd all be a little less tired.

This free education that you love, and take advantage of, in the district's top school? It ain't free. It costs time, it costs money, it costs a little blood, sweat and tears now and then. Someone somewhere is working THEIR ass off so your kid can have these things that make our school so great. So instead of casting around petty accusations about what you THINK or what you HEARD goes on, maybe get off your ass and come see for yourself. And if you don't like it, do something about it instead of bitching via an anonymous survey. Want to come in and overthrow the current leadership board? Bring it. We'll hand you the keys to the castle as we run to our cars shouting, "So long, sucker!" It's a thankless job and frankly, all we get is grief. Hello--we are VOLUNTEERS, not your paid servants, not your whipping boys (girls). You think you can do it better? To a person, I think we'd all say you're welcome to it, so put your money where your mouth is.

So, see you at the next meeting, Big Talker?


Wow. I don't even have PMS. Just think if I had written this then!


Joanne said...

Greatpost, Nat. I think you should send it out to all the parents!

Anonymous said...

Very well said!

Connie F-G

Kristie said...

I think that might be the best thing ever written. In fact, I should copy and paste it verbatim to my own blog (why yes, you ask, I am indeed a PTO volunteer) because apparently the cousins of all the people you are talking about at your school have kids that go to our school.

An example: I was set up at the Back to School Orientation asking people to join PTO and sign up for a committee (or two). MANY parents would say, "I work full time; I just can't manage to volunteer during the day." My reply was always a cheerful, "Then THIS is the committee for you! Teacher Appreciation Committee. You'll help provide teacher breakfasts two or three times a year, during testing weeks, and all they will ask you to do is send in some muffins, or a gallon of juice, or whatever, with your child that morning. The staff sets it up for us .... you don't even have to be there, just send in your item!" (bright, cheerful smile) Most people were willing to sign up, but I had one mom say to me, "I just can't commit, it's too much work."

A gallon of stinking orange juice???

And you're right, my complaint is these people want their kids to have all the perks, all the field trips, all the "things" that make our school so special, but they refuse to do anything to help make it happen.

Don't even get me started on the middle school spring banquet, the ONLY fundraiser the PTO does all year, and the parents who refused to buy a FIVE DOLLAR ticket to attend and eat. They came for free, didn't volunteer, snapped photos of their child, sat in chairs, enjoyed the entertainment (while the rest of us sold raffle tickets, served food, and cleaned up afterwards .... of course, lets not mention the HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of hours of prep-work we did in the weeks leading up to the banquet) and they did nothing.

OK, sorry, I've pirated off your comment section to air my own list of grievances. But seriously, Natalie, you need to "accidentally" submit that to your local paper, or even your principal's newsletter, because you are dead on the money.

Emily said...


Jordyn said...

Well Natalie and Kristie I think your students must have Canadian cousins b/c it's the same crap at our school.

It's starting to feel as though I've been through school three times (once for myself, my oldest daughter, and now my younger daughter)

Excellent post!!!!!

Kristie said...

Although, in the spirit of fairness, I should probably mention that after the spring banquet, I (and I'm sure several others) got a handwritten note of thanks mailed to my home from our Superintendent of Schools, telling me how much my time and work was appreciated. So while I grumble about the other parents (what's that phrase .... 10% of the parents are doing 90% of the work ... ???) I do know that the teachers and admin are thankful, and ultimately it helps my kids, so I will continue.

Jordyn said...

"So while I grumble about the other parents (what's that phrase .... 10% of the parents are doing 90% of the work ... ???) I do know that the teachers and admin are thankful, and ultimately it helps my kids, so I will continue."

Me too. I always say "that's it. I'm done" but I don't want the kids to miss out so I go to my happy place, slap a smile on my face and do it.

Anonymous said...

Dang...if I didn't know you were in Co I would swear your kids went to my school!

...you know me but I can't sign...parent stalkers ya know!

1dreamr said...

Damn, I don't wanna get on your bad side woman!! All joking aside, though, I think you should slip that little number into next month's PTA newsletter! Of course, the parents wouldn't read it anyway, right? I'm convinced that from the beginning of time, it's always been the same way - a handful of parents do it all.

Anonymous said...

bYou go girl. Love it.

Anonymous said...

I bow before your rapier wit. And pray I never incur your wrath.
You found your Popeye limit. "Thats all I can stands I cant stand no more."
The Charter school our two youngest attended requires 30hrs of parental participation, or $3. for each hour missed in the course of the year. I have done my duty, it is hard. But it's supposed to require effort, that is what so many do not realize. It's the grain of sand's irritation that produces the pearl.
You are a pearl!

Don S said...

Love it, just send to every PTA, PTO across the country. Well said!

Lucinda said...

Admittedly, I don't attend the PTA meetings (after being at school for 8 hours, I'm usually not inclined to return for more OR I forget)BUT I do respond to requests for cookies to be brought in, goodies for classroom parties, and work an evening shift at the book fair. I even made a dessert for the teacher's appreciation lunch one year; the parent who called me didn't realize she was calling a teacher. Fine by me...I got to eat what I brought in so I made sure it was a good dessert.

While our school's PTO isn't perfect, we do have a group of ladies who do put in a lot of time to help and do it because they want good things for their kids and everyone else's.

I agree with the rest of the comments...you need to get that letter out to all schools, not just yours, and see if some parents don't wake up.

Love ya!

sportzmom said...

Amen!I might have to borrow this! You are not alone...I think this problem is everywhere!

The Professional Bag Lady said...

Great... and as Kristie noted... the families at my school must have cousins who are attending schools in both OKC and Vail...

I love our PTA volunteers and sadly they have had to be voted in for longer tenure - just because there has been no one else stepping up to the plate...

Most PTA meetings at our school include board members and teachers/staff and very few others. We not only have childcare, we hire a Spanish language interpreter... and still few parents... there are always snack and drinks thanks to the board members or staff who volunteer to bring them...

I'm going to share your post w/the PTA President and others...

A simple edit here and there and I would swear you're talking about our little school.

Anonymous said...

Sing it, Sister! I am right there with you!!! I HATE when people say they don't have the time....I honestly don't know how they can say that to me with a straight face...I have five kids, drive them all over hells half acre 3 times a day, do all of their laudry that I think must procreate somewhere in the laundry room, feed them countless times a day and I work PT...we can all find something to do that fits in our schedule to help a little bit.
Hope you find some help!

Anonymous said...

Sing it, Sister! I am right there with you!!! I HATE when people say they don't have the time....I honestly don't know how they can say that to me with a straight face...I have five kids, drive them all over hells half acre 3 times a day, do all of their laudry that I think must procreate somewhere in the laundry room, feed them countless times a day and I work PT...we can all find something to do that fits in our schedule to help a little bit.
Hope you find some help!

Steph said...

I am posting to say, AMEN, just as these other fine ladies have done! I am currently in the middle of pre-auction (the most vital fundraiser for our small private school) hell, and your post totally sums up what I would like to say in response to everyone who is complaining to our VERY small committee! But I usually smile and say, "That's a great idea, and next year I nominate you to chair the event so that we can make that happen!"...bless you Natalie, and everything you are doing. You and your husband are teaching the boys that no one is too good, too busy, etc to pitch in and do what is needed for the greater good!

Anonymous said...

It's a problem everywhere!! I am not on the board, but I volunteer at just about every event whatever the need - setting up, taking down, running a booth, sending in food/drinks. I love our school, I really do - this is my 10th consecutive year there, but each year more and more is put on the few parents who will help and it's frustrating. This year I worked 3 days at the bookfair and had to turn around and work parents night because no one would volunteer and they know they can depend on me. I am the only room parent in my daughter's 4th grade class so everything falls in my lap from organizing the parties, getting the crafts together, finding movies for accelerated reader parties, buying teacher gifts - when I asked at the start of the school year if anyone who had submitted a form saying they would like to be room parent would like to share it with me there were no takers - yet every week in our community paper is page after page of complaints against the school system. It's annoying, but I want the best school possible for my kids so I continue to go, help when and where I can - it's all I can do!!


jean said...

Aren't you ever tempted to not do it and have everything fall apart, as you talked about in your rant and see what the other parents say? We've discussed that @ church w/getting rid of childcare during services b/c parents won't volunteer to do a shift. Radical, but might be what you need to wake everyone up.

Lauren said...

This must be an amazingly universal problem. My kids are actually in a very small local private school, and though the term "private school" invokes elitism and wealth, it is so not that way. Our tuition is the lowest of any similar school in the area, the teachers are phenomenal, and more than 50% of students get some degree of scholarship. In order to stay so low-cost and provide aid, we fundraise. Of course. I joined the board not four months after we started there, and a year later I am chairperson. The same 6-8 people do almost all the work for the school. Recently we had an education fair locally, where independent schools and summer camps could market themselves. Because most of these events are mom-heavy, I thought it would be great to get some dads to work the booth at the fair (in shifts). Rob signed up to do childcare for people during the fair and to do an hour at the fair. I thought of one dad who seems articulate and energetic, and whose son has been a student since September (this boy had trouble in other school systems but is thriving at our little school). I sent a quick email asking if this dad had any time, and got the weirdest response. He hasn't felt appreciated or something, and doesn't think everyone works equally (duh), and so on. So he respectfully declines to volunteer until he can feel better about it. We're due to meet to discuss his feelings (no little private school can afford a less-than-happy parent) but part of me just wants to say, "grow up--do you see how much Rob and I do? or such and such family?"

So private or public, the school can only be so much and all schools NEED this level of parental involvement to succeed. I was a homeschooler, so when we started at this school, it made sense to start working hard for it. Yet I am still a practicing veterinarian and even the managing partner of my practice. Somehow there is time. Maybe not time for much else, but they won't be school age forever; it's just another phase of parenting that requires most of one's life!