The school year is winding down and this is the time when many parent teacher student associations are making their budgets for the fall. Some PTAs in Seattle are choosing to share some of the funds they raise with schools that have fewer resources.
Lowell Elementary and Montlake Elementary are just two miles apart. Lowell is in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, while Montlake is just northeast near the Arboretum.
But because of the way school boundaries are drawn, Lowell gets a lot of kids who are living in homeless shelters downtown. Two-thirds of Lowell kids qualify for free or reduced price lunch. At Montlake, the number of kids who qualify for free or subsidized lunch is only five percent.
Montlake PTA Vice President Vivian van Gelder has been volunteering with Lowell’s food pantry program, which distributes packets of food to kids for the weekend. She suggested that the Montlake PTA share some of their funds with Lowell’s PTA.
“We just among us decided that we wanted to do something, that we wanted to extend some support to our fellow families that are going to be at Meany Middle School,” she said. “Our kids are all going to go to the same middle school, so these are our kids.”
So Montlake plans to share five percent of its net revenue in the coming school year with Lowell – probably about $10,000.
Cedar McKay, co-vice president of Lowell’s PTA, said Montlake’s gift is a “generous and welcome development.”
He said his PTA doesn’t have the ability to pay for extra school staff such as reading specialists or tutors, and many of the parents at Lowell don’t have the means to contribute to the PTA. So the Lowell PTA is focused on providing basics such as school supplies and a grant to the school’s social worker to help families in need.
“We did that when we found out our family social worker was buying shoes and diapers for some of the siblings of our kids, because one of the kids was in counseling and was like, `My little sibling doesn’t have diapers,’” McKay said.
Increased Focus On Disparities
This past year, there’s been increasing discussion about the inequities that arise when some PTAs are able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and other PTAs raise much less. Some PTAs are able to pay for counselors, music teachers and other staff, while other schools have no parent fundraising groups at all.
Van Gelder helped start a group called the PTSA Equity Project Seattle that hosted community meetings earlier this year to discuss the resource disparities and possible solutions. That conversation may be bearing fruit: Other PTAs in Seattle have decided to share funds recently.
The PTA of North Beach Elementary in North Seattle has an annual budget of just under $200,000, according to the group’s president Phillipa Dugaw. She said her PTA’s auction committee decided to dedicate part of the money from its “raise the paddle” event, in which auction attendees raise their paddles for different amounts of money, to give to Northgate Elementary for its library.
“We actually were worried that we may not raise any money in raise the paddle because people may not want this to be our focus, but it actually was the opposite, we got an overwhelming amount of support from our families,” Dugaw said.
Her school’s PTA contributed $10,000 to the Northgate Elementary library. At Northgate, three out of four kids qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
And at Whittier Elementary, also in North Seattle, the PTA plans to give the first $10,000 raised through its upcoming jog-a-thon to Bailey Gatzert Elementary, a high-poverty school in Seattle’s Central District.
And the PTA at John Muir Elementary School, itself a school where more than two thirds of kids qualify for free or reduced price lunch, voted to contribute $1,000 to a fund through the Seattle Council PTSA that will be distributed to help start or restart PTSAs at three other elementary schools in South Seattle: Dunlap, Rainier View and Emerson, according to Makeba Greene, co-chair of the fundraising committee with John Muir's PTA.
But Van Gelder and McKay say this is an imperfect solution because it’s ad hoc.
“It sort of depends on the generosity of a school or a PTA hearing about our situation and wanting to help and it’s not a systematic thing,” McKay said. “It’s not addressing the problem city-wide. This is just helping one school.”
Instead, they’d like to see some kind of centralized system for sharing PTA dollars.