I’ll be honest. As a working mother who helps out in her daughter’s class and at school events as much as she can, but not a member of the PTA, it feels like the PTA is a secret club. The Montclair PTA websites are not currently updated with meeting info, minutes or archived emails, so knowing what’s going on in the PTA is difficult unless you are in the PTA and going to the meetings. But just because you aren’t, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a right to the information.
In my quest to find out more about the PTA process and how it’s run, I found a few things and learned a good lesson. The real lesson is that if want to be completely informed, you need to be a member of the PTA and attend all the meetings. Also, PTA Board members work their patooties off. It’s a full time job.
Here’s the lesson I hope that all the PTAs will learn from me. Try very hard to be more transparent and make sure to give all parents, whether through email or flier, all information throughout the year. That’s the best way to make parents feel that they are welcomed and want to get involved, which will fill the PTA positions with a diverse, hard-working group of parents who can do a lot for our schools.
So without futher ado, here’s what I learned on my quest to find out more about the PTA:
1) Some parents feel intimidated by the PTA
- Since my daughter started elementary school three years ago, I’ve heard this from many parents. Some feel like they aren’t welcomed or that if they do attend, their voices aren’t heard.
2) The majority of the PTA Board members were not forthcoming when I asked for information.
- Some never responded to my emails. Others questioned why I was asking information and whether I was asking other schools too. I was also asked if I had a child in a particular school, but according to the NJ PTA bylaws (pages 22/23), “Everyone is welcome and anyone who is interested in schools and children may join his/her neighborhood PTA and is eligible to hold office, even though he/she has no children in school. Members of PTA work for the one common interest – the welfare of children and youth everywhere.” But I have to thank those who were immediately responsive and open with their answers. There were a few.
3) There seems to be no consistency or uniform way that PTA’s are filling Executive Board positions.
- The NJ PTA Bylaws have a very specific instructions how nominations and elections should be held in its Nominations, Voting and Elections Guide. But after hearing back from PTA members from different Montclair Schools, I found that the way these PTAs are nominating and voting for positions is varied.
- I’ve been told by a few PTA members that the Executive board is usually made up of a President, but often there are co-Presidents, a treasurer, a communications secretary and two recording secretaries. Each of these positions does a two-year term. Many schools do indeed have co-presidents, but according to the NJ PTA bylaws (page 22), “New Jersey PTA does not recognize co-presidents on the local PTA level and will not approve local PTA bylaws that include provision for that title.
- Each school should have a Nominating Committee, who searches for interested parents who may want a Board position or a committee position. According to the bylaws, this is an important job and should be done in a specific manner. At my daughter’s school, this is the first year that I can remember having received a form from the Nominating Committee announcing the upcoming openings and allowing parents to apply for a position. (Note: I’d been advised that the forms were sent out in previous years.)
- Some PTA board members told me they already chose their nominees back in February. Some are doing it now and are ready to hold the vote. But it seems that voting is done at a meeting and is usually presented in this fashion: Board announces the nominees for the new Board positions and asks everyone if they approve. If no one stands up and speaks against a member, then it’s official. So let’s say that you are in fact, not happy with the person who wants to take the President position. Do you stand up in front of that person and all the other members and say so? That’s a sure way to get shunned and make enemies. Shouldn’t the voting be done privately by ballot? Isn’t that a more fair and accurate way to choose Board members?
- According to the Montclair Council PTA bylaws, “No member shall be eligible for the same office for more than two consecutive terms. In the event that the Nominating Committee is unable to find a member willing to be nominated for a particular position, the member holding a particular office for two consecutive terms is eligible for that office for a third consecutive term.” But, I’ve been told some Presidents have held office for much longer.
So who can be a PTA President? According to one PTA president, “All officers and members must be members of our PTA for at least 15 days and of “good standing.” Good standing basically means they haven’t done anything that has contravened PTA bylaws. The bylaws at school, state and national levels are basically the same and not too complicated and meant to preserve the charity status of school PTAs.”
Anyone can attend any PTA meeting, but you can only vote if you are a member. In Montclair, all you have to do to become a member is pay your dues, which
are $7, vary by school.
I sent an email to the PTA Council presidents, asking for information on how the Board positions are filled to the, but received no response at all. I sent the same email to all the school PTA presidents. Here are the responses I have received to date:
Hillside School PTA:
At Hillside, we’ve been regularly sending emails to our families asking if they’d like to help on our committees, and we wrote to our sister school Nishuane’s PTA, too, requesting that our recruitment letter be emailed each week to families there (aimed at graduating second-graders’ parents). Only executive officers need to be voted in, and that will happen at our final PTA meeting on May 30, 9:30am. The officers comprise the two presidents, treasurer, two recording secretaries and communications secretary. The officer candidates are sought out by our nominating secretaries, who talk to them about what the jobs entail and whether there’s a good fit both ways. Voting on these officers will happen at the May 30 meeting. If there are many candidates for one job, ballot voting is done; if there’s one candidate, just a voice vote is sufficient (on an Aye, Nay basis). Committee chairs – no voting needed – are picked based on their interest and, if possible, relevant experience or skills, and others keen may also help on those committees as members. We welcome and encourage parents and carers from all Montclair communities to join us on Hillside’s PTA.
Mt. Hebron School PTA:
We’ve been email blasting out open positions to all families and encouraging them to get involved in any way they can. We also blast email reminders to attend the PTA meetings and announce open positions (small and large) at the PTA meetings. If you’re interested and committed the PTA’s are dying to have you help! I have 4 children in the system and my experience at the elementary, middle and high school level is that if you’re interested and committed the PTA’s are dying to have you help!
I have never noticed (at any of the schools we’ve attended) if there is or isn’t an official vote to fill these positions. We haven’t had multiple candidates sign up for the same role, so a vote hasn’t been necessary.
Charles H. Bullock School:
At Bullock, our nominating committee made a school wide search for our open officer positions, which were co-Presdients, treasurer, and secretary, back in January, presented them to the general PTA meeting in February, and we voted on 5/1. So we have filled our officer positions, but we have lots of openings for committees. We always do. We don’t vote on committee heads. It is a challenge to fill those positions, and we don’t ever have the problem of having two people duking it out for a position.On our site, we typically have a “how can I help” button and then we put the committee list up with openings in red. We haven’t updated that list yet, but we will be over the next 2 weeks. We plan to do a big drive for volunteers at our CHB Family Fair on Friday, June 8th.We need parent volunteers for our visiting artist program, our afterschool fundraisers (on early dismissal days), a photographer, event planning, newsletter, and more.
I think families are under the impression that the PTA has all the volunteers it needs, but that is not so. We always need more help. Many or most of our volunteers are working parents, so they often need to share their role with other parents. It is a balancing act, but our hard work pays off. We try to spread the word that our PTA is an open, flexible group that is open to volunteers even if they are only available to cover a shift at one event, or help make copies of newsletters once or twice a year.
Watchung School PTA makes every attempt to keep our decisions as inclusive and transparent as possible in hopes that everyone who wants to be a part of things has the opportunity.
Watchung PTA hosts a “first day of school” coffee each year where all parents/caregivers are invited to attend with sign-up sheets for every active committee. An email from the PTA President is sent to the general population for anyone unable to attend the coffee even and participate on committees.
Parents/caregivers that have chaired committees, volunteered at various or actively participated in activities, may be asked by the PTA President, Advisory Chairperson or Executive Board member to sit on the PTA Executive Board or take over as the incoming PTA President.
A Watchung school-wide email is sent at the end of each school year and at the beginning of each new school year by the PTA President asking each parent/caregiver for interest in chairing any unfilled committee positions.
A voting meeting is held at the end of the school year and at the beginning of each new school year. PTA members are asked to vote on all incoming positions.
Ultimately our PTA is as strong as the involvement of the parent body, and we hold events and functions based on the simple fact, “do we have a committed person willing to step up and Chair the event?” At Watchung we have a strong tradition of parent and teacher involvement, so our PTA is continually growing and thriving. It’s a fun place to be!
Renaissance Middle School:
At Renaissance (and I think at at least some of the elementary schools, because we “learn” PTA at the elementary schools), we put together a 3-person nominating committee in February I think. We also spoke with the Principal and teachers to see if they could suggest any parents that they’ve seen or know of that they would recommend for more involvement in the PTA. Then we all (nominating committee, outgoing Exec. Brd members, other long-time PTA members) just started reaching out — at our events and in our email blasts — to ask people to consider getting involved or suggesting an involvement that seemed like a good fit for that person. (Actually, the Executive Board has talked to parents who looked interested in getting more involved all year long — never too early to start!) Some people contacted the nominating committee directly, but we also made direct contact with others who were recommended.
We have a pretty thorough list of the PTA Exec. Brd/events/fundraising/administrative functions/liaison positions that need to be filled as well as their corresponding job descriptions so people get a sense of what the job entails. Our nominating committee completed their work and we presented the Executive Board slate –Two Co-Presidents(technically one President and one VP, for paperwork purposes with NJPTA), Treasurer, Corresponding Sec., Recording Sec.)–at our April meeting; we just voted on the Executive Board slate last night at our May meeting. (They were elected.) The transition between outgoing-incoming Executive Board has already begun (Tom Knoth, who had expressed interest in Co-Pres spot has already represented Renaissance at a couple of PTA Council meetings that none of us were free to attend), but will do so in earnest now, with the new folks attending our Executive Board meetings and meetings with our principal. Most of the other job assignments are also filled; there are a few open ones that can wait until Fall.
Best way to get on a committee? Attend a meeting or event and get involved, or, if your schedule makes it difficult to do that, contact the PTA President about positions that work with your schedule — I’m sure there’s a spot for anyone that is interested!
The first day of school there are sign up sheets for all PTA events taking place in that school year….folks sign up to participate in those activities (either to Chair or serve on committees). In addition, throughout the year, the PTA puts out a call for volunteers for Board positions and committees through our biweekly newsletter and at general PTA meetings….the current PTA Board recommends a slate for the coming academic year’s PTA Board at our last PTA mtg in the end of May. At that time there is a vote to approve the slate.
A letter that will go out to all Nishuane parents asking if any are interested in serving on the Nishuane PTA board for the 2012-2013 school year. The letter will ask interested parents to contact the Nomination Committee. We will be responsible for answering questions about any of the roles and responsibilities. We will then send a ballot home with the names of all the parents that have decided to run for a board position, so parents can vote through paper ballot. Once the votes are all in we will tally up the votes and announce the final members voted in at a PTA meeting and through other communication channels.