Today’s PTSAs fund more than playgrounds

June 23, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Books are set out for students at Maple Hills Elementary School in April that were purchased by the PTSA for the Eager Reader program, an incentive reading program that students do at home. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Books are set out for students at Maple Hills Elementary School in April that were purchased by the PTSA for the Eager Reader program, an incentive reading program that students do at home. By Chantelle Lusebrink

In a time when education funding is uncertain, parent teacher associations do more than provide an extra set of swings on school playgrounds.

In fact, local PTSAs have provided $592,542 to the Issaquah School District between March 2008 and April 2009.

“Basically, it expands the reach of what happens day to day, but also supplements the instruction in the classroom,” said Nancy Campi, co-council president of the districtwide PTSA. “Unfortunately, now what we are doing is filling in the huge funding gap of money that isn’t being paid by the state for basics, like expanded hours, basic supplies and professional development.”

In the face of a $5.4 million budget gap, district officials have already had to increase class sizes by one child in each classroom in kindergarten through 12th grades. They’ve also reduced other operational costs by about $2.2 million. The cuts are making district officials realize PTSA funding is more crucial than ever and they are beginning to collect data on it.PTSA funding for the district has grown in the past decade, said Jacob Kuper, district chief officer of finance and operations.

“There was an initial push to buy stuff, or hard assets, like playground equipment or climbing walls, then to buy curriculum and enrichment things,” Kuper said. “Now, some buildings are getting educational assistants’ or para-educators’ hours funded through PTSA programs. It is crucial for some of the enrichment programs we have.”

At Maple Hills Elementary School, that couldn’t be clearer.

“We have to raise money and support, or our kids don’t get some of the things they need for their education,” said Kelly Applegate, a parent and co-chair for the school’s auction.

This year, even with the economic downturn, the school’s PTSA was able to raise $116,000 in May at its biannual auction, which will sustain programs and necessities for the school for the next two years.

The money raised at this year’s auction will provide items including $4,000 for an educational assistant for the school’s Reading Zone program; $5,000 for new books for the Eagle Reader program — an incentive-based reading program students do at home; $300 for the school’s safety patrol and its materials; and $3,000 for field trips. This year, the PTSA has a budget of $71,200, which will sustain these programs.

If the PTSA members hadn’t made that goal, enrichment and basics would have to be taken out of their budget, like the educational assistant for the Reading Zone. The program helps struggling students with literacy, said Lisa DeVogel, a parent and co-chair for the auction.

Across the district, PTSAs raise varying amounts of money in different ways, she added.

At the middle and high school levels, where parents are less engaged with day-to-day activities, PTSAs ask for donations and membership fees at the beginning of the year.

But at the elementary schools, PTSAs raise money at auctions, walkathons, gift-wrapping fundraisers, book fairs, plant sales, grant writing, donations and partnership programs through community organizations and department stores.

“All the ends the district has can’t be fulfilled on their own,” Campi said. “For example, the district can run a science program, but having a science fair will round out that program.”

From their efforts, PTSAs have given a minimum of $1.8 million to the district’s general budget from 2004-2007, district officials said.

However, estimates from the district are conservative, because district officials have only started compiling data and analyzing PTSA gifts and donations, according to Martin Turney, district director of accounting.

The $1.8 million doesn’t include PTSA funding that goes directly to the schools or teachers.

At Maple Hills, each teacher will get about $500 per year to spend on classroom extras, which come in handy, according to teacher Renee Wiess.

“It used to be that the state and our taxes got the cake baked and the PTSA would fund the icing,” Wiess said. “But today, they are providing some of the cake these days, too.

“That stipend that the PTSA gives is so important for all the things that add up — like the sparkles kids remember, or the wiggly eyes or fried rice, and fortunes on Chinese New Year,” she added. “Those are the things that bring kids in.”

Those funds, now more than ever, are necessary, Campi said.

That is why the district’s PTSA council has asked all school PTSAs to set aside an emergency fund, to help with unexpected needs at their schools.

In addition, the council has asked that school PTSAs ensure they closely monitor and speak with their principals to ensure their biggest needs are being filled and the money they are giving is being spent in the best possible way, Campi said.

“In a year where schools are struggling with funding and volunteer support, we have good, strong PTSAs in all of our buildings,” she said. “We are able to sustain school programs and support for our schools from year to year. It’s not a dartboard thing where we aim and may or may not hit it. We are consistent.”

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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