PTAs, PTOs FILL GAPS IN BUDGET Groups raise money to fill budget gaps

June 06, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer Staff writers Sherrie Ruhl, Anne Haddad, Carol L. Bowers, Lan Nguyen and Mark Bomster contributed to this article.

In Sunday's editions of The Sun, a story on fund raising by parent-teacher associations and the caption with an accompanying photograph incorrectly identified Meadowvale Elementary School in Havre de Grace.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Remember that gift wrap you bought last fall? The candy bars that sat around the office, begging to be eaten? And the cheese loaves, the fresh fruit, the raffle tickets?

Chances are good that these sales pitches -- and many others -- came with a "PTA" label. They're so common that many people think that raising money is the Parent Teacher Association's major job.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

It's not.

But with school funds pinched, many parent-teacher groups are increasingly raising money to buy things for their youngsters that school systems have traditionally provided -- despite official policies that discourage the practice.

With their varying abilities to raise money, concerned parents and educators say, PTAs and PTOs (Parent Teacher Organizations unaffiliated with the national PTA group) may widen the gap among schools with extras and schools that don't have enough.

In the Baltimore area, parent-teacher groups raise as much as $25,000 to $30,000 a year. And that money buys more than frills:

* The PTA at Magnolia Middle School near Joppatowne in Harford County spent $24,000 over the last two years for walls -- walls to enclose the "open classrooms" built in the 1970s.

* At Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air, the PTA plans to raise money to repair the school's parking lot and put in sidewalks.

* The Severna Park Elementary School PTA in Anne Arundel County has just bought a climber-slider for the playground for $14,000.

* In Howard County, the PTA at Glenwood Middle School spent about $10,000 this year on networking equipment to accompany the computers the school got for free by collecting grocery-store receipts.

Parents and educators agree that the money goes to a good cause. But they say it can breed some bad habits, too.

"PTAs are buying computers . . . taking out loans to buy copiers . . . even hiring personnel," says Vicki Rafel, president of the Maryland Congress of Parents and Teachers. "That's not a PTA function."

Another issue is equity and how to maintain it when some PTAs are large and resourceful and others are small and struggling.

Big, active and well-heeled PTAs give their kids more computers, more field trips, even more grocery-store receipts to redeem than smaller groups do.

But many PTA officers say that the size of the organization, rather than parents' income, determines the group's ability to raise money.

While some PTA councils try to fight dependence on PTA funds and alleviate disparities among schools, others accept them as facts of life as school budgets fall behind increasing enrollment and the need for expensive technology.

"I say that fund raising is a necessary part of getting a good education," says Robert Wilson, president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs. "Our budget in the city does not meet the needs of every child and every school."

Even spelling books

At the city's Waverly Elementary School, PTA money has even been used for spelling books.

"I think all PTAs have discovered they're asked to purchase items and fill in where the Board of Education fails," said Helen Martin, PTA president at Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena. "The logic at the board is they think, 'If the PTA could come up with it the last time we needed it, they'll come up with it again this time, so we won't put it in the budget.'"

National and state PTA organizations are unhappy about this. In a pamphlet called "Maryland PTA Talks to Members About PTA Money," the state organization tells members that "a PTA renders a greater service by securing public support and funds for education needs than by providing the items on their own."

Just how much money PTAs make is difficult to determine. The groups are autonomous and generally don't have to report budgets to anyone else.

But interviews with officers of PTAs in the Baltimore metropolitan area indicate that the groups raise at least $5 million annually -- although there are large variations.

Liz Crosby, president of the Baltimore County Council of PTAs, said budgets range from $2,000 to $35,000 among the county's 148 schools. This spread seems to be typical of other counties, as well.

Baltimore's 140 parent-teacher groups, estimated to raise about apiece, contributed about $1.5 million a year to city schools and students, officials said.

In Howard County, where new accounting practices have just started, individual PTAs earned from $44 to $14,000 on their fund-raisers.

PTAs collect nominal dues, usually $3 to $5 a person, to cover their administrative expenses. After that, fund raising kicks in.

For those who adhere to PTA standards, the budget drives the school bazaar -- and the burger night and the book sale and all other fund-raisers. PTAs are not encouraged to make money for its own sake.

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