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.
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?