Parent Teacher Association groups may start locally, but membership dues go straight to funding state and national issues regarding children and education.
Unlike Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) which are autonomous from any larger governing body, every PTA is a part of the National PTA, a formal organization that has existed for more than 100 years and is headquartered in Chicago. Local chapters pay membership dues that fund lobbying efforts and abide by the organization's rules.
In the Park City School District, most groups are PTOs that work independently on local school issues. While the state PTA organization hopes to hold on to the local chapters, only two remain in the entire school district: Parley's Park and Trailside Elementary Schools. And the two are not often seen participating in Utah PTA training or events, including the Advocacy Conference last week where PTA members were updated on legislative issues and possible bills coming to the floor. The trend of not attending events is nothing new either, with the local PTAs missing nearly all of the training sessions and conferences offered through the organization.
"This is more common in rural schools," said Marilyn Marsen, the regional PTA representative for Summit and Wasatch counties. "It's a missed opportunity, to be informed on what will be in the Legislature this year. There will be issues coming up, and the conference was a chance to get to know how process works."
"Distance may be a big factor in getting more members from the area to attend," she added, "or the weather. To be honest, sometimes people who join the PTA don't know the high value. They are not acquainted with it, and they focus on what they do in their own school, missing the whole vision of organization."
Despite offerings ranging from contests to awareness weeks to a full-time staff dedicated to following state education issues, Trailside Elementary School parents are considering whether staying a part of the PTA makes sense.
"When I became president of the Trailside PTA, I had never thought much about what a PTA is. I never really knew the difference between a PTA and a PTO so I figured I better know what I'm doing and started asking," said Trailside PTA President LeeAnne Feddersen. "I found out the difference, that a PTA is affiliated with a national governing body, that we have to abide by the bylaws and by doing so, we should have access to these educational forums.
" But Trailside parents have never taken advantage of any of those opportunities. So right now, we're in the process of evaluation to determine whether we want to continue with the PTA. As of now, we are undecided."
And that point is a heated one as more PTOs crop up across the country, Marsen said, despite membership dues going to the state and national levels topping at $4.
"A PTO has no connections," Marsen said. "It's a myriad of groups."
"PTAs are not in it for themselves, but are in it for the children," she added. "We go over this in our meetings a lot, the value of membership. In one school in Bountiful, the school kept the membership monies and started a PTO. Now they can afford another field trip, but are losing that voice."
Parley's Park Elementary School is not considering dropping the membership, participating in one event every year, the Reflections contest for the arts where students compete through to the national levels with literature, visual art or music. But PTA President Paula Higman said she had her concerns with the level of communication between the state PTA officials and the local chapter.
"A lot of PTAs have transferred to PTOs in Park City," Higman said. " I didn't find out about the conference last week until after it happened, and I find that disturbing."
Fedderson said the decision on whether or not to stay a PTA has a lot to do with a lack of communication between the local organization and the state and national representation, that their participation was so low because their chapter often has no idea events are coming up.
"We have never taken advantage of what the state offers because in most cases we never hear about the event," Fedderson said. "Call me crazy, but I think the Utah PTA should touch base and let us know when a conference is coming up. We didn't know about the event."