Editor’s note: The second in a series of stories about school board-approved community groups in The Ann Arbor Public Schools. These groups have a regular seat and presentation slot at school board meetings.
Featured today: The Ann Arbor PTO Council (AAPTOC)
Featured Nov. 8, 2010: The Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC)
Up Next: The Black Parents’ Student Support Group (BPSSG)
By Casey Hans
The Ann Arbor PTO Council is making its mark, not only within the district, but also around the state.
The PTO Council’s push in the past year to become involved with how public schools are financed at the state level has brought an honor to the group this fall: Vice Chairwoman Donna Lasinski was invited to join the Education Task Force for Michigan Gov.-elect Rick Snyder.
“I think that’s a great place for us to be as the Ann Arbor Public Schools district,” said Lasinski, in announcing it at a recent PTOC meeting.
Lasinski has headed up efforts for the PTOC Advocacy Committee for School Funding Reform, formed last March. The group has met with state-level candidates and elected officials to keep the structure of public school funding at the fore as an issue, she said. They are also mobilizing parents to get involved with the issue of school funding through letter-writing campaigns.
“State funding of education is an issue that affects us across the board,” added PTOC Chairwoman Martine Perreault, who is in her third year chairing the board. She said the council has worked with other groups locally, including the Ann Arbor Parents for Schools, to educate the community about school funding.
“We’d love to inspire other groups in other areas of Michigan to do the same,” she added. “We’re trying to look beyond our district.”
Although maintaining a strong face at the state level, the Ann Arbor PTOC keeps a high-profile presence locally and continues to build support. Participation in the PTOC has increased from 21 percent of schools in 2007 to 89 percent in 2010.
A history of involvement
The group was formed years ago when Ann Arbor Public Schools PTO presidents began meeting; the group eventually evolved into today’s council, which involves a representative of each PTO/PTSO. The group meets monthly during the school year and its executive board meets with the superintendent each month. The PTOC also hosts an e-mail discussion list for information sharing. All PTOs are invited to participate in the monthly meetings, where guest speakers are often invited to keep parents informed and representatives can share concerns and information with each other.
‘It’s important to know that you’re not alone when you take office,’
– Martine Perreault, chairwoman of the Ann Arbor PTOC
Parents serve on ad-hoc hiring committees, district bid review committees, strategic planning and action committees, and standing committees such as Celebration of Excellence. Parents serving need not be PTO Council reps, but PTOC facilitates that involvement, Perreault said.
The group has also stepped up activities in recent years, hosting its third annual fall PTOC Launch Party in October, where local PTO/PTSO officers and potential officers from across the district had a chance to meet, mingle and get informed.
“It’s important to know that you’re not alone when you take office,” Perreault added. “We want to encourage PTOs to come to us as a resource. We’re not here to tell them what to do, we’re here to help them learn what to do.”
To that end, the PTOC also has developed officer leadership and treasurer training through the NEW Center in Ann Arbor and has sessions scheduled in early 2011. PTO officers and members of AAPS booster groups can take the training for a cost of $25.
“It’s the most productive $25 you’ve ever spent,” Perreault said. “We’re seeding the pool of people who will move on (as a nonprofit board officers) It works for them, it works for us.”
Andy Thomas, a sitting member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education who got his start as a PTO parent, said the treasurer training is particularly important. “That’s huge,” he said. “There’s the fiduciary responsibility, tax forms to file and best practices to prevent fraud.”
Thomas was appointed to his school board post then elected to a seat in November. He started as a PTO representative at Burns Park Elementary, representing the school at PTOC meetings and eventually sitting on the PTOC Executive Board as an officer. His time with the PTOC helped spur interest in larger district issues.
Thomas said the biggest role the PTOC plays is to serve as an interface between parents and the school administration. “I’ve always found the administration to be very responsive to issues that come up at the PTO Council,” he said. The most rewarding part of being involved with the PTOC (executive board) is sitting down monthly with the superintendent of schools. You can talk candidly and really get some insight into the district.”
Thomas said the PTOC serves as a springboard for parents who want to get more involved with their school district and perhaps, as he did, move on to serve on the school board.
“If you’re looking for an opportunity to look beyond the inside corner of your PTO, this is a great opportunity to do that,” he added. “So much of what happens (in a PTO) is tied to that particular school – and there’s a whole world beyond that.”
How to get involved:
- The PTOC is seeking nominations for next year’s Executive Board and also has a current open position on the board for Recording Secretary.
- Parent help is sought with newsletter production (not a board position.)
- The PTOC is forming a list of pro-bono service resources for PTOs in the areas of accounting, tax and legal advice.
- Parents interested in any of the above should e-mail Martine Perreault.
- To get involved with the PTOC Advocacy Committee for School Funding Reform, send an e-mail to email@example.com
About the Ann Arbor PTOC
The Ann Arbor PTOC meets monthly in the main board meeting room at the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St. The group will meet on the following Mondays in 2011: Jan. 24 (topic: Enrichment activities), March 21 (topic: Fundraisers), April 18 and May 16.
Leadership Training is offered for a $25 fee for nonprofit board officers (PTO and other parent groups.) Officer Training: Tuesday, Feb. 8 from 6:30-9 p.m. Treasurer Training: Monday, Feb. 7 6:30-9 p.m. (Both in the main conference room at the AAPS Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St., Ann Arbor. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Frequently Asked Questions can be found through the PTO link at www.a2schools.org. Topics include: Bullying and Safety Policies, guide to school funding, Reviewing By-Laws and Constitution, Insurance, How PTOs can use their funds, Incorporation, Selecting Outside Speakers for your PTO and a statement on activities relating to elections and campaigns.
Details: www.a2schools.org (click on PTO Council link.) Also, follow the PTOC on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PTOCChair or at http://twitter.com/ptocouncil