Can a PTA Bake Sale Save a Teacher's Job?
By Gilbert Cruz |TIME MAGAZINE | Thursday, Aug. 06, 2009
How many bake sales does it take to save a teacher's job? For decades, public-school parents have organized such fundraising events to cover the costs of field trips, sports equipment and other frills that enrich their children's education. Yet now, as recession clouds hang ever lower and state budgets tighten, schools and districts are increasingly asking adults to help pay for essentials. Parents are under pressure to bring in big bucks for supplies, technology and even, in some cases, staff salaries. That's a lot of sugar cookies.
Parent-teacher associations (PTAs), school foundations, independent community groups — the methods may vary, but the goal remains the same: to prevent public schools from losing more staff and services. In New York City, some public-school parents recently came under fire for paying school aides out of their own pockets. The local teachers union filed a complaint, alleging that the positions were taking away jobs from higher-paid unionized aides. It's all a new twist on an old story. "School spending has been augmented by private sources for a long time," says Andy Rotherham, a co-founder of Education Sector, a Washington think tank. "But this money is now being looked at as a way to restore more core services that are being cut, rather than just to provide extra things."
For many parents, the PTA — with its name recognition and history of reliable annual fundraisers — is the natural first line of defense. In Castro Valley, Calif., for example, Proctor Elementary's PTA raised $17,000 during the 2008-09 school year through a walkathon, an auction and a $60-per-child suggested contribution to the PTA. The group was able to put that money toward the salary of a paraprofessional whose job was endangered. "The state is supposed to provide the black-and-white essentials of a good education, and the PTA fills in the color," says California state PTA president Jo Loss, whose schools have had to deal with a round of budget cuts that might leave more than 17,000 teachers out of work this fall. "But our state has increasingly fallen far short of providing even the essentials. So PTAs are having to step in."
Still, many parent-teacher organizations are uncomfortable with the idea of getting so heavily involved with such vital financial issues. The National PTA, which claims 26,000 chapters, discourages its members from going too far. "Parents should not have to raise money to underwrite staff salaries," says Charles J. Saylors, president of the National PTA. "That's the responsibility of the local government. They should not be balancing their budgets on the backs of parents."