Sparks fly over bill cutting PTA dues
Parent who testified for the change quits group after 'inappropriate' e-mails sent
A bill targeting parent volunteer groups has become a hotbed of controversy resulting in the resignation of a potential school PTA leader who testified in support of the legislation.
"I wasn't looking for a fight. I just wanted to work in the schools," said Provo resident Mitzi Collins.
Collins told the Deseret News she became upset after "inappropriate and inaccurate" e-mails about her were circulated by the Provo City PTA following her testimony before the Senate Education Committee last Tuesday.
SB199, "Equal Recognition of School Parent Groups," sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, passed through the committee favorably.
The bill emphasizes parent groups have an equal voice in school and district decisions regardless of whether they are a Parent Teacher Association or a Parent Teacher Organization.
An amendment to the bill says PTA and PTO groups must waive membership dues at a parent's request.
Collins had been nominated to run for PTA president-elect at Timpview High School. She hadn't paid her dues but was waiting to see if Bramble's bill went through.
She decided to drop out of the race Wednesday, saying in a statement to Provo PTA leaders, "What has happened since I testified directly supports the reasons we need the new legislation, which gives all parents the right to participate at all levels in the parent organization at the public schools their children attend."
Provo PTA President RaDene Hatfield told the Deseret News her e-mail was to correct factual errors Collins made in her testimony.
Sparks flew during discussions on Bramble's bill at a State Board of Education meeting Friday.
After almost an hour of emotional public input and lawmaker comment, the board decided to take no stance on the bill. Instead, the board suggested Bramble and state PTA officials battle it out in the hallway — which they did.
The two parties, however, didn't reach an agreement.
"He just wants us to go away," said Holly Langton, state PTA education commissioner.
Bramble said he still wants to talk. He scheduled a meeting with state PTA leaders for Tuesday. "We may be able to find some common ground," he said.
The idea of not charging dues doesn't sit well with PTA leaders. State PTA President Marilyn Simister calls the bill "discriminatory."
A school's PTA group is affiliated with its national organization, and a portion of the local dues goes to the national group. A PTO isn't affiliated with the national PTA's agenda or philosophy and can choose to charge dues or not.
Each school sets its own PTA dues. The state average is $5. A total of $1.75 goes to the national group, $1 goes to the state affiliate and the rest goes to the school. Scholarships are available for parents who can't pay dues, Simister said.
If the PTA didn't charge dues, it would have to come up with the money owed the state and national associations.
Bramble noted the state has a lot of Title 1 schools. "Should parents be precluded from participation in PTA because they don't have the finances to pay those dues? We waive school fees regularly for school patrons," he said. "There shouldn't be a `pay to play.'"
Nationally, about 20 percent of schools have PTAs, while 80 percent have PTOs and other groups. In Utah, about 75 percent of schools have PTAs, while 25 percent generally have PTOs, according to Bramble and state PTA leaders.
Some parents simply don't want to be affiliated with the PTA but they still want to help in the schools, so they form a PTO instead.
Park City School District Superintendent Ray Timothy said his district has both, and they work well together. "It's surprising to see this contention," he said.
Collins said she doesn't agree with the national PTA's "very liberal stance" and doesn't want her money going to the national group. But if she doesn't pay the PTA dues, she can't vote or hold a leadership position.
"There shouldn't be a parent organization that has a stranglehold on voting and leadership," she said.
Parent Dawn Frandsen, of Provo, said the PTOs are left out of the loop in district decisions such as budget cuts.
"We're ostracized," Frandsen said, adding it's "ludicrous" to pay dues in an organization just to be able to vote and lead. "I have to buy my way in to be part of the group?"
State charter school leaders and representatives of Parents for Choice in Education support Bramble's bill, saying they like having both PTAs and PTOs because having only one creates a monopoly.
Representatives of the Utah Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute and Canyons School District Superintendent Dave Doty support the bill.
Bramble said rumors that his bill is revenge on the PTA because of its support for school vouchers is untrue.
"This is not an anti-PTA bill," Bramble said, adding that his wife has been a PTA president at every school their six children have attended in Provo School District. "It just says PTOs should be given equal recognition, equal access — have a seat at the table, either at the school or district level — if there are things being discussed, decisions being made, that affect the education of kids."
Representatives of the State School Superintendents Association and the Utah School Boards Association oppose the bill, saying the schools generally treat PTA and PTO the same and use the term synonymously. "It's a matter of semantics," said USBA President Tamara Lowe.
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