How much control does your local school board, superintendent, or principal attempt to exercise over the PTO? Recently, I attended the first PTO meeting at my children’s new school. I was surprised to learn that the local board of education has issued rules attempting to regulate the operation of school parent and booster organizations. Some of the regulations make sense, but others may go beyond the legal authority of the school board and hamper the ability of the PTO to operate effectively.
If a PTO is a program of the school—it is set up and managed by the school—then the school may supervise and control the activities of the PTO. In such a case, however, the school also is liable in a legal sense for the activities of its PTO program. For independent PTOs, those that are separately incorporated or that operate as independent, unincorporated associations of parents, the school has more limited authority. The school may supervise and control an independent PTO regarding the use of school facilities and the activities students engage in during school hours or as part of a school program. Beyond that, however, the PTO’s own rules—constitution or articles of incorporation and bylaws—should control.
One crucial note before we get into specifics. Principals and parent groups each hold considerable power to make the other’s work easy—and miserable. Know your group’s rights and stand up for them, but do it through discussion and negotiation. Divisiveness and animosity hurt the school and the children. You don’t want to create a situation like that whenever it can be avoided, and your principal shouldn’t, either.
At my children’s new school the school board has set forth regulations, including these three:
The group must receive approval from the principal when planning functions in which students will participate.
The use of school facilities must be requested through the principal.
All items donated by parent or booster groups become the property of the school, and the school may use or later modify or sell those items.
These regulations are within the legal authority of the school. Any activity involving students, including distributing fundraising materials or PTO newsletters through the classrooms or organizing assemblies or other enrichment activities in which the students will participate, may be controlled by the school. In addition, any activity involving school facilities, such as an annual fall fair or other fundraisers, may require the approval of the school for use of the facilities owned and controlled by the school.
Also, items donated to the school become the property of the school to do with as desired. For example, it may upset PTO members to learn that computers they donated have been sold or used in the library rather than the classrooms designated by the parent group, but once the items have been donated, the PTO has no legal authority over them.
Other rules of my local school board go beyond its legal authority.
Parent and booster organizations must submit their annual fundraising plans to the school principal, and the plans then must be approved by the school board prior to the start of the school year.
The principal must approve and supervise all fundraising activities.
The mutual agreement of the principal is required prior to purchasing equipment, supplies, or materials for the school.
All funds of parent groups must be deposited in either FDIC or FSLIC institutions.
An outside audit of financial records must be conducted each year, and a copy of the report must be submitted to the principal and the school system’s finance officer.
Funds of any parent or booster group must revert to the school if the group dissolves.
Annual fundraising plans are submitted to the school board to ensure that multiple schools are not attempting to sell candy or wrapping paper at the same time. However, the rule also may hinder the local PTO if it comes up with a new fundraising idea during the year and is unable to move forward with it.
Legally, an independent parent group may raise funds for a school without anyone’s approval. The PTO can even state, without the school’s approval, that the funds are being raised to purchase new computers or a playground. The school may refuse the funds or items purchased with them, but it cannot legally control the fundraising. So while cooperation is important to make sure the school wants the money raised or items purchased, sometimes schools attempt to exercise control beyond their legal authority.
Know Your Rights
Similarly, while depositing funds in secure banking institutions and conducting an annual audit are good financial practices, the school and school board have no legal authority to impose these regulations on the PTO. The school board may make suggestions regarding financial controls. However, the PTO has the authority to determine and implement its own financial practices.
In addition, the PTO may determine how its funds are distributed upon dissolution. Under IRS rules, organizations tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) must distribute funds to other (c)(3) groups upon dissolution. The school may be the logical recipient, or it may make sense to distribute the funds to a new or different parent or booster group.
Cooperation between any parent group and the school it supports is essential to carry out the mission of the PTO. However, as a PTO leader you should understand the extent of a school’s legal authority over your organization’s activities. This may allow you to make better and more informed decisions about the operation of your group.
Thanks for your help!
The URLs for the individual posts are too long to cut/paste into this comment box but if you go to ptotoday.com/boards and use the search feature (left hand side) you should be able to find the discussions. If you need help please email me at klagden (at) ptotoday (dot) com.
could you please respond asap?
The latest is a surprise meeting indicating they will be installing newly elected officers and no one knew there had been an election.
This is a very concerned mother who love her daugthers and her daughters school. May somebody pleeeeease help us?
raising agenda items, and voting. Reading the bylaws is a good place to start. You'll also find some folks who have been through difficult times with their groups on our message boards. It's a good spot to learn how others handle similar challenges and you can jump in and post your own specific question as well.
http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/382. You'll also find a lot of help and advice on the message boards from folks experienced in dealing with principals: www.ptotoday.com/boards. Good
can adminstration---office manager,etc...be elected to the board in any position...can adminstration nominate and be part of the voting process...........is there a grace period for becoming a paid member in order to vote, like paying the night of elections....a nominee using school info to solicit the fact that she is running....can the bylaws be completely changed and where can we get some bylaws....who makes final decision on which fundraiser companies to use....i have lots of issues...the above need to be addressed and resolved before the new school year starts. thank you
We've re-posted your question on the message boards: http://www.ptotoday.com/boards/teachers-principals/22482-debate-w-principal-teachers-over-staff-lounge.html#post150220
where you're likely to get more feedback.
Short answer regarding the appliances: guessing that the PTO didn't put them in so your members could use them; you put them in for the teachers. The school is likely responsible for maintaining them. And you probably didn't put them in thinking "Maybe we'll take them back some day." So probably best to accept the fact that they now belong to the school, whether or not there was a formal agreement.
Since you want a positive working relationship with the principal, this really isn't a road you should go down. It will only make things (much) worse.
BTW, have heard from other schools that the teachers-only rule for the staff room isn't uncommon -- teachers sometimes discuss confidential information about students.
Did the school district provide any reason why it didn't want your group to proceed? Under ordinary circumstances, the district shouldn't stop you from getting 501c(3) status. You are an independent group, you've already put in lots of work. It would make sense to move forward unless the school district can produce some very compelling reason why your group should put its plans on hold. It's curious -- you would think the district would encourage this move because it's such a smart thing to do.
Our district requires an bi-annual form for fundraising and a separate form for each fundraiser by itself. These must be approved by the Assistent Superintendent and the Principal otherwise fundraising is not permitted. Period.
Also the district requires the audit and much much more.
What recourse can our PTO have if we refuse to follow these guidelines? Our principal is a perfectionist and a control freak/micro manager. It's bad enough the school district is that way too but we are so frustrated the Board is tempted to disband.
Our school district has a 280+ parent organization manual for PTOs, etc. to follow.
My suggestion is to figure out, along with the principal, the things that really matter. From a quick look at this document, I'd say the district really wants groups to professionalize (for lack of a better term) their handling of money. That's a reasonable request, since there are dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of cases of theft from PTOs, PTAs, and other volunteer groups every year.
If you can get your bookkeeping in order, institute some strong financial controls, and show a willingness to coordinate your fundraisers, that would meet the main concerns we've heard from most school districts. You might also contact other groups around the district -- I'm sure they're feeling the same thing you are. Good luck!
Help please...............Thank you
Sounds like you are at a Catholic school? The question of "who's rules?" certainly get more clear at a private school, where the Principal is typically more empowered and schools have a greater ability to do as they please.
That doesn't mean at all that your principal is doing the right thing here, but it does mean that you need to proceed on merits and process, more than on any kind of "you can't do this!" platform. Have folks discussed this with the Principal? What are his or her concerns? What does he or she want to have happen? Can you set up an appointment for a calm conversation with no accusations? I think that's your next step.
recently in our Presidential Council meeting (11 schools represented by their PTO/PTA Presidents) we were shocked when an item was brought up that wasn't on the agenda. The Superintendant of the district asked one of the Presidents to ask if we would pool fundraising money to the sum of $200,000 to help with implementing Google Chrome in the elementary and middle schools. It wasn't on the agenda and there was no paperwork and the discussion was vague. To say this was sneaky by the district is an understatement. Should PTOs be allowed to fundraise for something a district should provide? We are all furious! Help--we need some guidance. We are in Illinois where our state is completely messed up which doesn't help anything!
Can a fundraiser be a PTO's auditor or treasurer at the same time?
Also, the treasurer should certainly not be writing checks for thousands of dollars that haven't been approved by the board or at least by the president. It's important to make sure, in no uncertain terms, that she understands that. Even if she's just trying to help, it's not her prerogative to make that kind of decision. Maybe you should, as one measure, start requiring two signatures on every check.
We are paying the D.J.s, but the school admin. now says we must play New York New York (we are located in Indiana) and Donna Summer's Last Dance at the dance. This is not the only thing they have told us we had to do.
Our bylaws state that we operate under our bylaws and a district non-profit organization-but the bylaws are old. I cannot find anyone who has even heard about this organization, nor have I been given a copy of its bylaws. We fill out the IRS form specifically for our PTO each year for the fed. and state governments.
Is the admin. acting legally? Can they tell a non-profit what to do outside of school hours?
As a past PTSO Board, what can we do about the funds not being used to purchase what our Board voted and Approved? Can we call for another vote? Is the principal required to refund the money as it is not being used as approved?
Any guidance on this is much appreciated.
What steps should we take next - I know legally she can not dissolve our PTO organization.
What do we tell our members?
Have you tried talking with the principal to see why they feel the need to dissolve the PTO? You do need to go and look at your bylaws to see if there is anything there about dissolving the group, who can dissolve it? You need to see how the group has been set up, as an independent group? Good luck!
Great article! Question from the school side, what legal rights does the school have if funding isn't happening from PTC? And since we are in agreement with PTC to not do any funding on our own over a specific amount our hands are tied and they are not doing anything. Thank you