Orient the Team
Gather your committee chairs for an orientation meeting. Discuss tips on keeping the executive board up to date, managing the committee’s budget, working in the school, and working with their volunteers.
Encourage chairpeople to contact all the members who sign up for their committees, even if not all of the people will be needed.
The Timberline High School Parent Organization in Boise, Idaho, recommends distributing folders with this information, plus phone lists, schedule of events, procedural items such as reimbursement request forms, the PTO’s bylaws, maybe even magazine articles on volunteerism. That way you give everyone the same information, even if someone did not attend the orientation meeting.
The PTO treasurer should educate the committee chairs on financial issues, including the amounts of their committee budgets, the correct way to ask for reimbursement, controls for tracking payment collections, and how to make deposits after a fundraiser.
Ask for Suggestions
Set up a PTO suggestion box in the lobby or other common area. Let parents and staff know they can feel comfortable bringing a suggestion or potential solution to the attention of the PTO officers.
Figure Out Whose Job Is Whose
Before confusion sets in, clarify with the principal which activities are run by the staff and which are the PTO’s domain. If your school holds a book fair, for example, should the PTO recruit helpers, or does the school librarian see that as her job? Will the book fair money run through the PTO’s account, or does it go directly to the school? Will teachers ask for classroom helpers themselves, or should the PTO handle a blanket request?
Attend to Money Matters
If your budget includes accounts over which the principal or teachers have discretion, be sure to let them know how much money they can look forward to. They, too, need to do some planning for the year. If your budget for assemblies is $4,000, the staff member who schedules assemblies needs to know that amount right away, before any programs can be booked.
Also, be certain the staff knows how to get funding from the PTO: by formal grant request, through the principal, by submitting reimbursement requests, or by requests consolidated at the grade level, for example.
Find Your Bylaws
This is good time to find—and read—a copy of your group’s bylaws. If you have only a paper copy, recruit a volunteer to type them up in an electronic format so they can be updated and saved easily. Make copies for all of your officers and committee chairs. Keep a copy on hand at every meeting. If your group has no bylaws, seriously consider developing a set for your PTO as a first priority this fall.
Prepare Your Budget
Update your budget from last year, or create a new one from your PTO’s checkbook history and this year’s plans. Confirm recurring costs with your vendors, if applicable. Be prepared to submit the budget for approval at your first meeting of the year.
Bone Up on Robert’s Rules
Robert’s Rules of Order were designed to help meetings run efficiently. Local bookstores carry summarized versions of the rules that make them easy to understand and apply to your situation.
Some parent groups even have an assigned parliamentarian who can answer questions related to motions, voting, amendments, and more during PTO meetings.
You don’t need to go overboard in applying the rules, but if you have a basic understanding of the areas of Robert’s Rules most relevant to a PTO, you can keep the meetings running smoothly.
Ask for Help
Recruit committee chairs and committee volunteers from your membership. If you set out sign-up sheets, include the names and phone numbers of the current and immediate past chairpeople, so potential volunteers can call for more information. On the other hand, don’t fill all the positions with “old” members. Leave opportunities for parents who are new to the school this fall.
Find the Files
Somewhere in your school, or possibly in the basements of your past officers and committee chairs, are the files of past PTO events. Track those down and redistribute them to the new officers and chairpeople. Even files that seem old and outdated can provide good advice, if your volunteers take the time to read through them.
You’ll be amazed at the ideas no one remembers that were once used successfully; just read the old minutes for clues. As PTO secretary, I thought we should distribute a quarterly newsletter. In my old secretary files, I found great examples that had been published many years earlier, but the practice had died out with a change in officers.
Set Up a Binder System
Officers and committee chairs acquire a wealth of information during their time in office. Start a committee binder system to collect it all; you’ll make life a lot easier for future volunteers. Have each committee chair fill her binder with information gathered in working on events: vendors used, costs, planning issues, budget projections, and so forth.
The next time you run that event or program, you won’t have to go searching for information you already had—once. More important, you’ll smooth the transition when new committee chairs take office. Your group will be off and running a lot sooner and a lot more smoothly.
Mark Those Dates
If your school district requires that the PTO requisition meeting space, now is the time to complete the paperwork. It can be very awkward to show up for an evening meeting, only to find the school building locked. If your district maintains a district-wide calendar, submit the dates of your big family events to reduce the likelihood of conflict with other events at neighboring schools.
Make Meetings Consistent
For both regular membership meetings and executive board meetings, establish a routine to keep the meetings focused.
For example, always set an agenda, record minutes (even for executive board meetings), and provide opportunities for committee reports and open discussion alike. Start and end on time. Decide now whether your meetings will be for business only, for educational purposes, or a mix. Confirm speakers early if you want outsiders to present at your meetings.
Start Big Projects Early
Get a jump on major undertakings. Often, the details make projects take longer than it seems like they should. Get a jump on these things now; you won’t miss the last-minute stress.
For example, if your PTO publishes the school directory or sets up the telephone fan-out network, start working on those projects as early as possible. Typically, parents are anxious for the directory, but the project is far more complex than most people realize.
The telephone fan-out also needs to be updated each year as families leave and new families come to the school. If your fan-out is used primarily for winter weather advisories, then you have a little breathing room. But the sooner your committee starts on the project, the better.