Question: Reimburse officers for costly mistakes?

It was revealed recently that last winter, our then-treasurer wrote a $2,500 check from her own account as a deposit on a hotel for a “parents’ night out.” The event was canceled because of lack of interest. The hotel would not refund the money. They did give our PTA some vouchers to be used at this year’s school auction. The PTA president decided to write the treasurer a check from our group’s account for the $2,500 dollars. This was all kept very quiet and never brought up in a PTA meeting. Our bylaws require that any expenses over $500 be approved at a meeting. At the very least, it appears they broke our rules. Is it appropriate for the individual to be reimbursed, essentially asking the parents at our school to pay for her mistake? It all feels very wrong.

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

Well, it does sound as though your treasurer and president went about their party planning the wrong way. Elly says it’s never a good idea to lay down that sort of cash for an event before getting a good read on attendees’ interest first. And certainly, your treasurer and president should have sat down and read the fine print together before any legal and binding contract was signed between the hotel and your parent group. Most of all, a check of that size shouldn’t have been written to anyone without discussion at a meeting if your bylaws specify that $500 limit.

Nevertheless, as costly as the mistake was, Elly thinks that your group needs to chalk it up to experience and cut the treasurer a little slack—and, yes, a $2,500 check, too. Most parent leaders are bound to have a few misjudgments and miscalculations while on the job. It just comes with the territory. In fact, Elly once worked with a PTO leader who organized a professional speaking engagement at her school to the tune of $3,000; only six parents attended. Naturally, her pride was hurt, and she was embarrassed by the low turnout and high expense. Now imagine if she had to pay for that night out of her own pocket. Double ouch!

Elly does think it’s perfectly OK to speak up and remind your officers about the importance of following your PTA’s bylaws and protocols. If you do, it’s essential to present yourself as a problem-solver and not merely a finger-pointer. Here are some event planning guidelines you can mention to your group’s officers that could help your PTA going forward:

Begin with a survey. Sending out a survey early in the year can help pinpoint which activities and events parents are most likely to participate in. Be sure to ask for their preferences about date and time of year, party theme, ticket costs, venue type, adults only vs. family, and casual vs. formal. Having this insight in advance is key.

Form a committee. Your treasurer can’t and shouldn’t undertake planning a major event like a parents’ night out by herself. Using the survey results, a committee, with board approval, sets the budget, coordinates the details, and gives regular updates about its progress. This process ensures that everyone is in the loop on major decisions, vendor contracts, and expenditures related to the event.

Presell tickets. Getting parents to commit by payment a few months prior to the event is a great idea. Doing so can be pretty telling as to whether the event will be a bust or the bomb and gives you plenty of reaction time.

Start small. If the activity you’re considering has never been tried within your parent group, consider holding it at the school gym or other low-cost venue. In subsequent years, when you’ve grown it into a more popular annual tradition with parents, your leaders can think about going upscale and moving the shindig to a fancier or more expensive locale.

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