River Hill parents to stick with PTA

Proposal to separate from state, national organizations rejected

May 11, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

River Hill High School is keeping its Parent Teacher Student Association.

Parents at the Clarksville school soundly rejected a proposal last night to dissolve the group and replace it with an independent organization -- a move suggested earlier by the school's PTSA president.

Every public school in Howard County is affiliated with the PTA. However, PTSA President Steven Pelham had raised concerns about an increase in dues and whether local chapters such as River Hill's benefit from being associated with the Maryland Parent Teacher Association and the national PTA.

Though River Hill's PTSA has more than 1,300 members, only about 50 people -- including state and local PTA representatives -- attended the 90-minute forum at the school. In the end, parents decided that sticking with a known, national organization was better than forming a group affiliated only with River Hill.

"That would be fine if we existed on an island with one school, but we don't," said parent Laura Mettle. "We don't exist in a vacuum."

The resolution to dissolve the school's PTSA would have had to be approved by two-thirds of the members present, but only a small number of parents voted for dissolution.

Pelham said an independent parent-teacher organization would have more freedom and could keep money raised from dues to benefit River Hill exclusively. He noted that other schools in Maryland have broken away from the PTA and created independent organizations, although not in Howard County.

"For a lot of people, change is terrifying," he said. "It takes strong, independent thinkers to be PTO. Because we're a new school, this is an opportunity to make our own tradition."

Pelham also said he had not received answers to a list of questions he had sent PTA officials.

Pelham's idea had been criticized by some who said River Hill would lose lobbying influence with elected officials by leaving the PTA. Susan Poole, president of the PTA Council of Howard County, said the group has the resources to lobby for children from the local to the federal level.

Maryland PTA dues have risen from 50 cents per member annually during the 1996-1997 school year to an anticipated $1 in 1999-2000. By 2002, annual dues are expected to be $1.50.

Some parents said that was a small price to pay for PTA affiliation. Mettle clutched a McDonald's bag, noting that a double, quarter-pound hamburger cost more than national PTA dues.

Parent Eugene Sambataro praised Pelham for "stirring up some issues," but he said people dissatisfied with the PTA should work to change the group.

"I deal better with a known," Sambataro said.

Not everyone agreed. Parent Allen Dyer said the national PTA has been ineffective and has not kept up with technology, particularly the Internet. He also criticized the state PTA, saying it had not done enough to prevent the deterioration of Maryland's inner-city schools.

"I'm concerned about the slow change of pace in the organization," Dyer said of the national PTA. "I think they are tremendously ineffective."

River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer -- who ultimately voted against the resolution to dissolve the PTSA -- said it was important to bring the issue to the forefront.

"Though we haven't agreed on every issue I've found [Pelham] to be a man of high personal integrity," Pfeifer said. "I'm trusting of his motivations for the students of this school."

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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