River Hill may drop its PTSA affiliation

Parents frustrated by national, state dues, restrictions

May 06, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

In what is being called a first for Howard County, members of River Hill High School's Parent Teacher Student Association will consider dissolving the group and replacing it with an independent organization at a meeting next week.

Concerned about an increase in dues and whether local chapters benefit from being affiliated with the Maryland Parent Teacher Association and national PTA, River Hill PTSA President Steven Pelham and members of the executive board proposed voting on whether to create a Parent Teacher Student Organization.

A membership meeting and vote are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday. The impending decision has been the subject of several messages on the Clarksville school's unofficial e-mail network and has sparked debate within the local school community.

Susan Poole, president of the Howard County PTA Council, said the idea of dissolving a school's PTSA is unusual here.

"Howard County has always been a county that has been able to say PTAs exist in all of the schools," she said.

"I don't think there's ever been a PTSO here," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "It is an unusual thing."

River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer, also a member of the school's PTSA executive board, said supporters of state and national PTA affiliation should make a persuasive argument for the school to remain in the fold.

"I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with putting this issue forward to be considered," Pfeifer said. "My expectation is that we will have a very healthy forum. I'm trying to keep an open mind until we have that meeting next Monday." Maryland PTA President Debbie Bostian could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Pelham says he supports the mission and objectives of the PTA. However, he has questioned whether the state organization has a clear strategic plan and whether local chapters are benefiting in proportion to the dues they pay.

"The MPTA does do good things, however, their history and future plans do not give me a `warm, fuzzy feeling' that they are following a prudent plan (if one exists)," Pelham wrote in an e-mail to River Hill PTSA members, which he provided to The Sun. "A PTSO is, for many, uncharted territory. We would become an unattached organization within the county and we would have to depend on ourselves for support and guidance."

In a paper Pelham wrote last month, he estimated in a worst-case scenario that "for every dollar the MPTA gets, less than 20 cents is put back into use for the benefit of its members while 80 cents goes to overhead expenses."

Allen Dyer, moderator of River Hill's unofficial e-mail network, says Pelham has a point. Dyer was involved in drafting the school's PTSA guidelines and believes local chapters have "zero flexibility."

Like Pelham, Dyer says he supports the PTA's objectives but deems the structure too rigid. Dyer said the PTA could save money on administrative costs by making more information available via the Internet.

"I personally think it's outmoded and outdated," said Dyer, who added he had not decided how he will vote. PTA supporters say River Hill High School may lose lobbying credibility by disassociating itself from the PTA. School board Chairwoman Karen B. Campbell, who served as a delegate to the county's PTA council in the 1970s, said the organization is an important training ground for school advocacy.

"It also has great credibility with elected officials. When one gives up the PTA designation you do, in fact, give up some credibility that the organization has," said Campbell, who may attend Monday's meeting. "I have no way of knowing how a PTO is run. PTAs are trained and encouraged from the very beginning to care about all kids. They are actually child advocates, and that has value."

School board member Sandra H. French made a similar appeal in an e-mail to River Hill parents last month. She said local PTA dues help pay for everything from photocopying testimony on state and national legislation to postage and telephone bills.

"In my years of working in the PTA, we have squabbled over issues and budgets and dues a few times," wrote French, a former president of the PTA Council of Howard County. "But we resolved our differences through discussion and voting, not through seceding from the 100-year-old union of parents, teachers and students all working together for the common goal of a better life for all children."

In an e-mail, one parent recommended modifying the local PTAs to reflect the community's needs rather than discarding PTA affiliation altogether.

"I disagree that change can only happen through revolution," she said.

However, Pelham has suggested that the money the River Hill PTSA has spent to cover national and state dues -- $2,345 as of March, according to Pelham -- could be used to fund programs at the school.

The issue has been publicized on the school's unofficial Web site and in the school's PTSA newsletter. Monday's meeting will be at River Hill High School, 12101 Route 108 in Clarksville.

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