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Bringing the PTA into the 21st Century or What I learned at the Washington State PTA Convention

It was painfully apparent on Friday during the general assembly meeting what regions and districts were represented at the Washington State PTA (WSPTA) Convention and what communities, towns and cities were not.

The General Assembly during the WSPTA Convention is when members vote on candidates for leadership positions and on resolutions that have been brought to the general membership. Each school, based on the number of members that are enrolled, have two to four votes that they can use to represent their school. For each vote that the school has, a member must be present for that vote to count.

During the morning General Assembly, there was a bar graph shown that depicted the number of members in each region and this graph fairly well described the demographic of the General Assembly, white and middle to upper middle class suburban moms.

At the assembly itself, Region 2, which is made up of the wealthier Seattle suburbs including Bellevue, Issaquah and Mercer Island, was well represented. Region 6, which includes Seattle, was not as well represented although we were holding our own but for the most part Region 2 outshone everyone in terms of attendance. This unfortunately was reflected in the voting and the outcome in terms of the long-term platform for the WSPTA which now includes charter schools. I requested a breakdown for the regions represented during the legislative assembly and was told that information was not available but I will request it again for the voting membership who were present at this convention. For now, several of us in attendance took a visual of the regions represented and it was apparent that it was the folks with time and money on their hands who showed up.

Is this adequately democratic when it comes to representing all of our children? Is this the face that the PTA wants to have for others to see? I don’t think so, particularly if you look at the WSPTA website where you have a wide range of children with varying nationalities represented. There was concern raised during the general assembly that there were 250,000 fewer members nationally last year than the year before and that was also reflected in  membership numbers for the state of Washington.

The way that I see it, there is the financial issue and there is the issue of relevance.

First the financial/time issue. Money is so tight that even $15 or $20 can make a difference these days in terms of considering membership in the PTSA. Now, with the financial crush that many of us are under, both parents are working whether they want to or not. When I lived on Mercer Island, the PTA meetings were held on weekday mornings at 10:00 AM. It was a coffee klatch event which I made a herculean effort to attend twice. These meetings were of great value but I couldn’t go every month because I worked full-time. It was therefore a quasi private club. Only non-working moms need apply.

The convention cost $150 to attend if you register early and does not include food or lodging.

To attend the convention, another herculean effort can be involved for many working parents and, of course, for teachers. The convention starts on a Friday when many parents and teachers have to work. We were reminded that voting doesn’t begin until 6:30 PM on Friday evening but if you are coming in from out-of-town, what are you going to do if you have to work that day? Which brings me to my next point. You have to physically be at the convention to vote. For some that means flying in or driving from miles away and there is no child care available at the convention so the children need to be left at home with a caregiver or partner. This can be an additional cost.

Add to that lodging and food and you can be out-of-pocket for quite a bit of money.

This is why other regions were under-represented or not represented at all.

Next year, the convention will be in Bellevue, a stone’s throw from Seattle. A decision with no regard for other regions attending. Bellevue is also more expensive than Seattle and farther away from SeaTac airport. I guess everyone can take a limo. (Or is it eat cake?)

So how do we get the WSPTA into the 21st century and relevant again? How do we encourage and support parents, teachers and students to be involved? How does the WSPTA get the diversity of membership that it keeps attempting to obtain? First we do it with the technology that we have available and we take a look at how we handle our state and national elections. If this is to be a democratic process that is accessible to all, let’s make that happen. We have Skype, which is free, and we have video conferencing.

The WSPTA can provide online voting where at a person’s leisure, they are able to watch video’s of the people running for office as well as arguments pro and con on resolutions and then the member can vote with a click of a mouse. Simple and relatively inexpensive. If you want to go to the convention, you can, but it would not be a requirement. Another option is for each region to meet on a specific date at a local school and video conference in during the General Assembly to watch the candidates speak. Debate can also occur on the resolutions via Skype or be pre-taped. Voting can be done at the local assemblies as done now, by voice or a visual show of voting cards.

When the issues such as the support for charter schools or whether PTA’s should pay for additional school staff out of their own funds are up for a vote, it is vital that all parents, students and teachers who want to, are able to participate.

We make it a point to make voting as easy and as accessible as possible during our state, local and national elections, we need to do the same for the PTA if the PTA wants to remain relevant and meet its goal of diversity.

More to follow on the convention and my observations in upcoming posts.

Dora

Post Script: And as for the cost of getting the WSPTA into the 21st century? The leadership can now go back to Bill Gates and ask for additional funding. But then again, does Bill Gates really like the idea of a truly democratic system where all are involved in the decision-making process?

24 comments on “Bringing the PTA into the 21st Century or What I learned at the Washington State PTA Convention

  1. carolinesf
    May 8, 2012

    I think parliamentary procedure does make PTA proceedings less accessible to immigrants and generally non-middle-class participants — but I also agree that it (or something like it) is valuable. I was on a board where there was a major conflagration years ago (this was a co-op preschool, and the issues were, surprise, money and power). Only AFTER the brouhaha did I study up on parliamentary procedure, and since I had reason to give it close attention, inspired by the conflict I had just experienced, I realized that this set of rules was literally created to avoid bloodshed. And thinking back over the conflict on the co-op preschool board, I realized that firm enforcement of those rules could well have headed off the worst of the conflict.

    I think that, for an association such as a PTA, providing a quick summary regularly, for the uninitiated, would be valuable.

    Short History of Robert’s Rules

    Henry Martyn Robert was an engineering officer in the regular Army. Without warning he was asked to preside over a public meeting being held in a church in his community and realized that he did not know how. He tried anyway and his embarrassment was supreme. This event, which may seem familiar to many readers, left him determined never to attend another meeting until he knew something of parliamentary law.

    Ultimately, he discovered and studied the few books then available on the subject. From time to time, due to his military duties, he was transferred to various parts of the United States, where he found virtual parliamentary anarchy, since each member from a different part of the country had differing ideas of correct procedure. To bring order out of chaos, he decided to write Robert’s Rules of Order, as it came to be called (see chart of editions below).

    http://www.robertsrules.com/history.html

  2. Shelley Kloba
    May 8, 2012

    With respect to electronic voting, the current bylaws allow it only at the local and Council level, and only for election of officers. To allow electronic voting, as you suggest in your post, it would require an amendment to the bylaws at the state level. This process is fairly similar to the resolutions process, which you are somewhat familiar with. I have already been in communication with a member who would like to see this change, and would be happy to put you in contact with her if you’d like to work on it together. We are a membership-driven association, and we try to adapt to the needs of our members.
    Also, I know that Parliamentary Procedure is like a foreign language to many people, but it is the rules by which our association conducts its business. I have found this website to be very helpful in demystifying the rules, and encourage you to check it out. http://www.jurassicpariament.com

    • seattleducation2011
      May 8, 2012

      Shelley,

      Yes, please have the member contact me at dora.taylor@gmail.com.

      I would suggest that the parliamentary procedures in an abbreviated form be provided to all convention attendees. I received a lot of paper when I registered at the convention some of value, some not. It seems that the procedures clearly written out would be of great value in the future. Most people, including me, would not have thought to bone up on parliamentary procedure before attending the convention.

      Dora.

  3. seattleducation2011
    May 7, 2012

    Leonard,

    I didn’t see a camera but I will check on that.

    Dora

  4. seattleducation2011
    May 7, 2012

    Getting back to my original point of this post, WSPTA boast on its website of having 143,000 members. According to “Anonymous”, there were 262 members who voted on the amendment so I will guess that was about the total number of voting delegates Friday evening at the General Assembly. Most of these delegates were white, middle/upper middle class suburban moms. There were few teachers, students or parents of a different demographic.

    To say that the PTA lives up to the motto of “Every child, one voice” , a different approach will need to be taken to ensure that all members who want to are able to participate in the decision making process. We have the technology at hand to make it simple and easy for all members to be a part of the process and anything less should be unacceptable.

    Dora

  5. Anonymous
    May 7, 2012

    The amendment against charters that was offer right after the resolution was introduced was put up in writing on the very large video conference screens positioned on both sides of the room. It read: “strike ‘non-profit charter schools’ from the resolution” IOW tt was very clear what was being debated on the floor.
    At that point delegates who wanted to keep the charter language intact lined up on side of the room against the amendment (the con side). Delegates who wanted to strike the charter language amendment lined up and spoke on the opposite of the room. An additional 10 minutes of debate was granted by motion from the floor to allow for more time to debate the amendment to strike the charter language.
    During the debate on whether to strike the charter language, no one spoke at the wrong microphone. No one was instructed by the Parliamentarian to not talk about charters — everyone’s comments on pro or con of the amendment addressed a relevant point about charter schools (IOW con side offered why they are bad idea; pro offered why they are a good idea).
    Then there was a voice vote on the amendment. The vote appeared to fail, but to be certain someone motioned for a vote count. The count was by person — you stand until you are counted and then you sit down (each region is counted, then those totals are handed to the parliamentarian, who adds them up). The amendment to strike the charter language out of the resolution vote failed by almost 2 to 1 (170 to 92 votes). This comports with how delegates actually lined up to speak or otherwise show support — the side of the room speaking in favor of charters had twice as many delegates lined up to speak in favor of charters, compared to the side speaking against.
    The delegate who spoke first against charter schools and offered the amendment to strike the charter language is a highly experienced PTA veteran who has attended many of these statewide gatherings and has a council level position. Had the voice vote been close this delegate would have called for vote count.
    It also doesn’t make sense that the same body of delegates who voted overwhelmingly to keep the charter school language intact would have seconds later voted against the same resolution that included support of charters. Maybe a few delegates voted mistakenly, but for the hypothesis offered above to be true/factual would require a “mistaken” or “confused” vote swing of nearly 80 delegates getting it wrong on both votes. Just doesn’t seem likely.

    • seattleducation2011
      May 7, 2012

      Anonymous,

      It’s interesting that out of all of the people making comments, you remain anonymous.

      Anyway, whoever you are, you had a different perspective than from where I was.

      I never said that the amendment was confusing. That was the least of it.

      You have two mic’s and two different issues up for debate.

      (By the way, the mic’s were on opposite sides of a large ballroom.)

      One mic is pro and the other con.

      It was obvious that the crowd that would be for the amendment would be against the resolution. Right? OK. So let’s say that I am for the amendment but against the resolution, which I was. First I would line up at the pro mic, say my piece for the amendment, and then switch to the con mic because I am against the resolution. That didn’t happen.

      Some members were lining up for the charter school resolution before the amendment was brought to the floor. The members who I spoke with went to the con mic thinking that they would be speaking against the resolution but instead the amendment came up and they didn’t know if they should go to the pro mic to share their opinion or stay where they were. There was no one saying OK now, switch mics or clarifying where members should be.

      No one switched mics as they should have done.

      I’m sorry but it was poorly run. I know that this is an all volunteer situation but when the WSPTA is going to take on such volatile and critical issues, there should be far more professionalism and care given in terms of the proceedings.

      It was more like the Laurel and Hardy Who’s on First routine then what I would expect to see of a national organization.

      And yes, it was actually Chad Magendanz who got reprimanded for speaking on the pro side of charter schools during the “debate” over the amendment. He was told to stick to arguing against the amendment. This completely confused everyone.

      Next time you deal with such critical issues, you should tape the proceedings.

      Dora

      • Leonard
        May 7, 2012

        I saw a camera. Was this meeting video taped?

  6. seattleducation2011
    May 7, 2012

    Just out of curiosity, I looked up some stats:

    There were 262 voting delegates present during the vote on the charter school resolution.

    There are 295 school districts in our state with a total of 2,345 schools that accommodate a total of 1,037,018 students.

    “Every child, one voice”?

    Dora

  7. Leonard
    May 7, 2012

    How was the vote taken to to strike charters from the agenda? From your response it seems someone took numbers. So, am I correct to say that they took numbers when a motion was make to strike charters from the agenda, but they approved the charter resolution by sound? If so, it sounds VERY odd.

  8. Leonard
    May 7, 2012

    I just reread your response. How did they determine a voice vote? By sound?

    • seattleducation2011
      May 7, 2012

      Yes, by sound.

      I was in the back of the room but from where I was standing it sounded very close.

      Dora

      • Leonard
        May 7, 2012

        Sounds irresponsible. Considering the gravity of this vote, the vote should have been taken by a method other than sound. I have to wonder if this vote is valid.

  9. Leonard
    May 7, 2012

    Dora, Would it be correct to say that the vote was taken by a show of hands? For matters of such great importance, I”d expect voters to submit their votes in writing and have it confirmed by multiple individuals.

  10. R. Murphy
    May 7, 2012

    From welfare as a teen in the 70’s, to financial aid and student loans and cooking in Boston in the 80’s, to cooking on fishing boats in AK to going back to school to my FIRST salary white collar job in March 1999 at age 39 at the redmond borg … I’ve worked with the bottom 50% cuz I was in the bottom 50%, and … WHO has time for 2 meetings a month, eating us several hours at a time, just to be considered ‘active’ ???
    OOPS! I didn’t mean the PTA, I meant the local Democratic Party …

    and now that I’m on the other side of the bottom 50% as a teacher, WHO has time for 2 meetings a month, eating us several hours at a time, just to be considered ‘active’ ?

    OOPS, I meant the teacher’s union, NOT the PTA !!

    rambling comments aside – do ANY of these groups have enough senior members who really really understand that most of the ways in which they run their ‘democratic’ organizations insures that too many can’t participate?

    I think they do! That is why being ‘active’ is for the clique$.

    (I’ll get disparaged by all the good hearted peeps of the Cap Hills & Queen Annes and Wallingfords and … cuz they don’t have the wealth or lifestyles of the Trumps and the Gates — well, guess what, you’re a hell of a lot better off than most of the bottom 50 and 75%!)

    Good luck, Dora. I’m already charging enough windmills.

  11. Anonymous
    May 7, 2012

    At the start of debate, a motion was introduced to strike out any reference to or support of charter schools from the proposed PTA platform resolution. That motion was defeated 170-92. The subsequent voice vote affirmed the resolution as originally written (which was supported by the PTSA Board) with the charter language included. Opponents of charters did not ask for a vote count on that final vote (this is done by simple motion from the floor). Not sure why opponents didn’t ask for another vote count like they did with their amendment.

    • seattleducation2011
      May 7, 2012

      There was a lot of confusion surrounding the charter resolution as well as the one that was voted on before it in terms of process.

      The resolution regarding the PTA paying for additional staff was written or presented in a way that people didn’t understand what it meant if they voted yay or nay on the resolution. Many people, including myself, were confused just before the vote which way to vote in terms of PTA’s not paying for staff, whether it should be yay or nay. In addition to that, people were going up to the pro and con mic’s and presenting the opposite opinion for that specified microphone.

      A few members told me after the assembly that they didn’t vote on that resolution because they weren’t sure what the yay or nay vote meant.

      There are some process issues that need to be worked out on that or people who are handling the meeting need to take the time to ensure that everyone is clear on what is happening.

      In terms of the charter resolution, there was an amendment that was brought to the “Pro” mic and the debate ran for the full ten minutes. Additional time was requested and provided. There was again confusion because apparently we were not to talk about the pro or con of charter schools but on the amendment. This confused people. Then, when it was time to speak pro or con on the charter resolution, everyone should have switched mic’s but they didn’t. Actually some were where they had planned to be to speak to the resolution but not for the amendment. So you had some people at the correct mic’s and some not.

      If this sounds confusing, it was. I and others incorrectly assumed that we would have an additional ten minutes to speak to the resolution but that time had been spent speaking to the amendment.

      Someone asked for more time but it was apparently too late. It all happened very quickly.

      After the voice vote the president said that it was time to move on. Most of us not knowing the process did not speak up or would have to request a hand vote.

      I would have, believe me.

      Dora

    • Leonard
      May 8, 2012

      I don’t think the membership is familiar with procedure.

  12. Kathy
    May 7, 2012

    Dora, What was the final vote? Were you permitted to distribute materials?

    • seattleducation2011
      May 7, 2012

      It was a voice vote which I found odd because it sounded fairly close to me. The president seemed in a hurry to move on with business even though it was the next to the last item of business and far too important to just move along.

      Several of us had flyers that we submitted for approval. All the material was approved and two or three of us distributed flyers in an area that was prescribed all morning and a bit more after lunch.

      Dora

  13. Leonard
    May 7, 2012

    I’m with Jessica. Due to this issue, I”ve lost all respect for WSPTSA, They have become another tool for reformists and don’t mind using under-handed techniques to pass their agenda. Dispicable.

  14. Jessica
    May 7, 2012

    I agree completely. I’m at a crossroad right now, do I maintain my membership and try to change from the inside or do I just give up, let the PTA become less relevant and hopefully die. I’m so disappointed in the entire organization. It felt very elitest and cliquey. The sad part is that the folks there did not seem to realize it.

  15. carolinesf
    May 7, 2012

    I’m a veteran, active member of the California state PTA, which unlike the Washington state PTA has not gone rogue and teamed up with forces that attack and undermine public education.

    I deeply hope that the parents and educators of Washington state can team up and take your PTA back from these harmful forces as soon as possible.

    It’s an unfortunate truth that it takes considerable resources to attend a PTA convention. I attended one full convention at the other end of the state, on a scholarship from the CAPTA, when my two kids were in elementary and middle school. Even with the scholarship, it still felt like with one more kid, or one more stress in my life, or one little rung down the economic ladder, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. But I still believe the state conventions — and certainly the PTA — are valuable and a positive force working for children, families and public education. The fact that lower-income families are likely to be badly underrepresented is an unfortunate fact of economic inequity. The members who CAN be present and represented need to keep that in mind in everything they do (and no, this doesn’t always happen — certainly not with the current PTA in Washington state). And your ideas are valuable and worth exploring.

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