Today we begin running the Shawnee Mission Board of Education candidates’ responses to our general election questionnaire. Here’s question number one:
School PTAs and parent groups across the district raise varying amounts for supplementary programming and special events at their schools. Should this money be kept at the school where it was raised? Or should there be some mechanism for distributing PTA funds more equitably across the district?
There is no question that there is disparity in the ability of PTAs and parent groups across the district to raise funds and there is increasing concern with this issue as the socioeconomic gap across the district seems to widen. But the funds raised by PTA and parent groups should be used for the purpose designated by those groups. To unilaterally impose a mechanism on PTAs to equitably distribute funds across the district would seemingly have a chilling effect on donors.
Through the recession and then the cutbacks in funding by our state legislature, our district’s parents have been able to supplement the loss of funding through their own means. Our district’s legislative platform supports our communities raising funds at the local level. A PTA raising funds for their own purposes conforms with our district’s legislative platform and I support this effort.
To impose an equitable distribution scheme may solve the equity concern but it seems shortsighted in that if a school has a benefactor, that school should be allowed to reap the rewards of having that alumna’s support of that specific school. Additionally, some of the funding provided by these PTAs may fill a role at a school that lessens the strain on the district’s operating budget. However, if a school chooses to have a portion of their fundraising dollars be directed towards, for example, the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation or funding a program at another district school, again, it should be the choice of those parents and that PTA.
Our district is fortunate to have the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation in place as a mechanism to assist with equalizing the disparity. And as the disparity widens, the opportunity for community partnerships through the Foundation or otherwise, to assist with providing both financial and basic needs of a school and their student population must be evaluated and could include providing programming to all schools on fundraising mechanisms or establishment of a “partner school” program.
The fact that our district has schools with exceptional fundraising abilities, coupled with the diversity in our district, and the strong support of our Foundation are all positive attributes of our district and opportunities are present that can be harnessed to aid in the equalization of the district. But funds raised by a PTA or parent group should remain at their school unless they choose to use them otherwise.
I believe the lack of adequate funding dollars from the state has been the primary driver of the outside fundraising that has occurred in our district. As the state abdicated it’s responsibility to the children of Kansas, parents swooped in to help. Fortunately, as the state is held accountable, and as funding increases, there will be less of a need for outside funds, decreasing the unequal ability of each school to meet its student’s needs.
There have been districts throughout the country that have tried various mechanisms to equitably distribute PTA funds, but many have proven to be unsuccessful. Most notably in Santa Monica-Malibu, when PTA raised monies were redistributed throughout a district, wealthy patrons slowed their rate of giving, with participation from wealthy donors dropping by 50 percent after they pooled their district’s PTA fundraising. Additionally, wealthy families in Malibu started a secession movement to avoid losing their donations to other schools.
I think it would be very useful to do two things. The first, would be to implement a tracking system, that would make record of the dollars that are supplementing schools throughout the district, be it Title I or PTA or private Education Foundation dollars. This would allow the district to be aware of the schools that are falling through the cracks, and to direct Shawnee Mission Education Foundation dollars to assist with making sure community events are able to occur, and to make certain that every child is able to participate in field trips, extracurricular activities, and other important educational opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable. The second, is to support Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA efforts that already exist, such as volunteer sharing with the SMAC PTA clothing closet or with individual PTAs who request assistance. The SMSD can then facilitate support for these schools. For example, at our child’s school, our PTA partnership with Premier Mazda and Volvo has led to the car dealership providing assistance with Coats for Kids, supplying funds for new coats for children at our school during the winter months. Shawnee Mission Unitarian Church has partnered with Rosehill to make sure snacks are available for children who may have missed a breakfast meal, so that they can focus throughout the day. Such community partnerships are invaluable, and can be developed, if we know where we need to make the connections. Tracking fundraising dollars throughout the district can help us identify the schools that need the assistance.
SM West area race
Craig Denny (incumbent)
In my opinion, PTAs and other parent groups should not be discouraged from supporting their children and/or school. Money raised should continue to be used for supplemental programs, within established school district guidelines, at their schools. The school district should allocate district funds as necessary so that such supplemental programs are equitable and available at all schools, regardless of the ability of school PTAs and/or parent groups to raise money.
This is a thorny issue. Parents want the ability to supplement their child’s education, especially when programs and services have been cut due to budgetary constraints. This is a positive thing because parents are more involved in the school and the kids get some additional resources they wouldn’t otherwise have like field trips and guest speakers. But for schools where many of the parents have limited resources of time and money, it is difficult to plan and execute successful fundraisers. While our Title 1 schools get some extra funds to offset this, the schools that don’t qualify as Title 1 but still have busy parents and no ability to raise extra funds miss out. This creates a great inequality in our schools. My suggestion is to allow PTAs to continue to raise money for their schools, but to work on a plan to partner them with another school that doesn’t have that same kind of fundraising ability. If they can work together on a fundraiser or two each year and split the proceeds, that will allow some extra funds for the schools that don’t get all those extra resources. I have said that one of my favorite quotes is “There’s no such thing as other people’s children.” I think there are many parents in our district who believe that, too, and would be willing to work with another school to ensure that all of our children get a great education.
SM East area race
Yes, the money should be kept at the school where it was raised. To do anything else would be to collect money under false pretenses. However, I would lobby for a published guideline that a given percent of the money raised will be contributed to the Shawnee Mission Educational Foundation. For me, meddling with the way the PTA distributes its funds is beyond the scope of the Board of Education. The Board has enough other issues. Additionally, if a supplementary program or special event is worthy of funding, the school board needs to find those funds. That is really the idea behind the Local Option Budget. Of course, with the lack of funding of the last few years, we have had to use the LOB just to make ends meet. With an improving funding picture hopefully, there will be enough funding to go around.
My priorities for the district are interrelated and begin with the following three goals:
PTAs are an integral part of our district. However, the PTA does not have the capacity to fix the funding equity gap, with local units collectively raising less than 1% of the SMSD annual budget. A sustainable solution for equity is to resolve the adequacy component of our state’s school finance formula, as noted in the Gannon State Supreme Court rulings. The responsibility to allocate sufficient funding for basic educational services, including teachers, paraprofessionals, librarians, counselors, and such, is that of the state legislature and governor. Students who experience obstacles to learning, whether via poverty, disability or language, are more likely to struggle when resources are tight and schools are under stress. The pursuit of alternative revenue sources to backfill state funding gaps, to local authority or PTAs, only exaggerates inequities across communities.
State’s Role. Kansas legislators are obligated by the state constitution to adequately fund public education AND at a level in which every student has the opportunity to make progress toward a defined set of educational outcomes. Yet our state leaders chose to cut the K-12 public education operating budget by $511 million since 2011 and underfund actual operating costs to districts by roughly another $300 million, for the past two decades. These state policy choices resulted in substantial cuts to Shawnee Mission in the past couple years and pressed our district to rely on local authority to cover a significant portion of the state’s obligation to fund basic educational services.
PTA’s Role. The role of a local PTA/PTSA is to enhance the educational experiences of all students in the building, not fund public education. Current fundraising efforts to hire classroom aids, tutors and counselors should be managed as a short-term response, to a more sustainable solution. A critical role of our PTAs, at present, is to advocate for education policy that upholds the state constitution, to be informed voters, and send pro-public education elected officials to Topeka. Policies that mandate equitable distribution of local donations could result in less contributions overall.
School Board’s Role. Advocacy is one approach I would like to see the board pursue, regarding the issue of equity. The district’s legislative platform can be more than a written document and the sole responsibility of a part-time lobbyist. Parents, patrons and legislators need to be informed about the impact of inadequate state education funding and the rationale for fully investing in the actual costs of public education. Working with our community to enhance equity is another underutilized resource. The board could establish a clear rationale and use for contributions to districtwide equity initiatives, in collaboration with the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation – providing a compelling reason for PTAs to contribute beyond the needs of their building.
Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item two: Do you think the next superintendent in Shawnee Mission should be required to have a doctorate? Or should the board be willing to consider candidates who have not attained the degree?