Former GA PTA Leaders Tell-All
“The local [PTA] units in good faith are sending their membership dues thinking it is going to children’s programs and it is going to hotel rooms at the Hilton for board meetings, meals at the meetings and sending people to national conventions. The convention has become their summer vacation.”—Former GA PTA Board Member
A Georgia blogger has all the dirty details of the on-going saga which she says should be a TV reality show. Maureen Downey, an AJC writer, interviewed several former PTA leaders earlier this year who spilled the bean about the inner workings of GA PTA. In her blogs here, here, and here, Downey presents a PTA tell-all about nepotism, criminal records, racism, and outrageous spending habits. There are also allegations of noncompliance with by-laws, wrongful removal of board members, and PTA business being conducted in an opaque manner.
The tell-all was precipitated by the shady ouster of Georgia PTA State President Lisa-Marie Haygood along with some other state PTA board members. The actions of current PTA state board members were so shady that National PTA has gotten involved. Unfortunately, NPTA has done little to rectify the situation. Mostly, they have just sent out letters threatening disaffiliation. Of course, this means Georgia's schoolchildren are now probably going to be disqualified from entering PTA Reflections art contest.
WTG PTA!! Way to punish the kids for adult misdoings.
But there is more to this story. And it involves charter schools. Haygood led the fight against creating an Opportunity School District in Georgia. The OSD is Georgia's version of Tennessee's ASD. Haygood's efforts were quite successful. The Governor's proposed OSD legislation was defeated. But before Haygood could accept her PTA Advocacy award, she was summarily removed from office. And nobody knows why. But there's lots of speculation.
Former GA PTA board members told Downey that Haygood was kicked out as president because, among other things, she tried to reign in some excessive spending habits. Most recently, the cash-strapped PTA expended $20,000 for its board members to travel to Las Vegas for this year's upcoming National PTA convention.
A former member of the Georgia PTA Board of Directors had this to say about PTA Dues:
“The local [PTA] units in good faith are sending their membership dues thinking it is going to children’s programs and it is going to hotel rooms at the Hilton for board meetings, meals at the meetings and sending people to national conventions. The convention has become their summer vacation.”
So….. Was Haygood ousted in retaliation for defeating OSD legislation? Or for tightening up PTA's financial practices? Or maybe, both?
We're not sure but this isn't the first time, there has been drama with Georgia PTA involving charter schools. Last time, GA PTA opposed a referendum that would permit state authorizers for charter schools. But those advocacy efforts were stamped out by National PTA under the direction of Tennessee's own Betsy Landers.
In 2012, NPTA Bullies State PTAs on Charter School Stance
Since 1995, National PTA had always taken the position that local school districts should have exclusive control over the approval process of charter school applications. This allowed locally elected school boards to decide who could operate a charter school; where to locate new charter schools, the number of charter schools in the district; and what types of charter schools would best meet the district's needs.
But when Landers became National PTA president, PTA withdrew its opposition to state and other charter school authorizers. That change meant that PTA is now advocating against local school boards having exclusive control over the charter school application process. In a letter, Landers told PTA state presidents that she wanted to ensure PTA would support "all authorizing bodies and public charter schools." She further stated that all local and state PTAs should comply with the new position in their advocacy efforts so PTA could remain "relevant."
The upshot of this new PTA position was to set the stage for charter school proliferation and other problems that come about when outsiders intrude on local school decisions. Ironically, National PTA, under the leadership of former Tennessee PTA President, Betsy Landers, took a stance that marginalized local school boards at the same time Metro Nashville Public Schools was waging an epic battle with the State of Tennessee. MNPS and TDOE were vying for control over the charter school authorization process. MNPS claimed it had the autonomy to deny Great Hearts' charter school application. But TDOE withheld funding in an effort to force MNPS to approve the charter. Eventually, Great Hearts ended the stalemate by withdrawing its application.
Landers and National PTA were criticized for the change in position on charter school authorization. Two state PTAs flatly ignored the new National PTA position and continued with their advocacy campaigns against state charter school legislation, Georgia PTA and Washington PTA.
In August 2012, GA PTA released a recommendation that voters oppose a referendum allowing the State to authorize new charter schools calling the measure a "state power grab" that would place the education of children in the hands of those who intend to profit from it. But National PTA stepped in and pressured GA PTA to back off from its opposition to state authorized charter schools.
At the same time, Washington State PTA also opposed a ballot initiative creating charter schools in their state. Washington State PTA reasoned that the initiative lacked sufficient safeguards in the form of local controls. Parent activists were clear in their disdain for charter schools and were quite critical of them. But despite the outspoken opposition to charter schools, Washington State PTA later caved to NPTA's position and overturned its stance against the charter school proposal in a controversial PTA platform.
The Incredibly Shrinking PTA
"Any stand we take is decided by membership ... It's not made by staff, not made in Washington. It's made by the grass roots."—Former NPTA President Betsy Landers in 2012
Over the years, PTA has continued its embrace of charter schools without seeking the will of its membership. Consequently, members are voting with their feet. A 2012 article says National PTA membership "has dropped steadily over the past 10 years from about 6 million to under 5 million."
Since 2012, PTA membership has continued to plummet, dropping to 3.8 million members. That's a loss of 1.2 million members in less than five years. While Landers attempts to explain the membership decline with excuses revolving around economics, working mothers, and single parents, not everybody is buying those excuses.
"PTA's shrinkage can't be explained only by such factors, given that parents are active at tens of thousands of schools in independent parent-teacher organizations not affiliated with the PTA. Factors driving this trend include frustration with having to pay state and national PTA dues, and disenchantment with the PTA's role as a vocal advocate on such issues as charter schools...."
Among the reasons members leave PTA:
- "I don't feel like we get anything from national or state to justify that expense"
- "I don't feel the PTA's mission and our mission are the same"
- "Parents think they're joining to be involved with the kids at their school, and they're really becoming part of a massive political action committee"
- "It just didn't seem like that was a real good use of our money"
- "There was a time when we really needed the PTA - that was how we got information, now we have the Internet ... We can get all the information we need at our fingertips."
But Landers refused to entertain the notion that National PTA's top down advocacy efforts could be driving away members, saying instead, that in"any association that takes a stand, there will always be some members who disagree." Landers blamed the declining PTA membership on PTO Today and initiated a lawsuit against PTO Today's parent company.
"The National Parent Teacher Association, an iconic group that's been part of America's cultural backdrop for more than a century, has seen its membership fall by more than half of the 12 million members it had in its heyday in the 1960s. That decline, at least in part, motivated the PTA to file the lawsuit against PTO Today."
"The 15-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago accuses PTO Today of engaging in false advertising, trademark infringement and other deceptive practices to 'further continue to encourage members to leave PTA.' President Betsy Landers accused PTO Today's parent company, School Family Media Inc., of 'disparaging PTA to drive business their way." She added that "PTA had no choice but to take legal action to protect its respected name and reputation.'"
But PTO Today founder Tim Sullivan, a former teacher, says "the claims in the suit have no merit" and goes on to describe the basis of the PTA lawsuit as "kind of dumb.""On the one hand, they say we're trying to make money by confusing the marketplace and pretending to be them; on the other hand, they're claiming that we're disparaging them. I suppose it's possible to do both, but it would be kind of dumb to do both."
Within six months, PTA's lawsuit against PTO Today was dismissed and settled without any money changing hands.
So, PTA walked away empty handed????? Was it worth it?
Landers said, "It is important for the public to understand that what makes PTA unique is the national network of families united in their commitment to improving the education, health, and safety of all children." But, we have to wonder just how much PTA spent on this litigation? How many memberships did local PTAs have to sell to fund this lawsuit? And most importantly, did it benefit the children?
We can think of a billion better ways to help children than a litigious attempt to protect PTA's brand name and its reputation. We think, PTA's own actions are driving its loss of credibility and its loss of membership. If you don't believe us, just click on the links in our blog and see for yourselves. We aren't making this stuff up, and it is too important to ignore.