Does your principal have final say over your PTO? Are parents completely independent? These are age-old questions of the PTO world that often come up at this time of year, perhaps because a principal is demanding that you spend remaining funds in a certain way or maybe as a new principal comes to town with new ideas regarding control.

To me, the answer is much more about practicalities than legalities. Yes, if you're a formally established 501(c)(3) then you are likely a completely separate legal entity than the school. But can you really do your job well (creating community, supporting the school, building meaningful parent involvement) without the support of your building principal? While you could insist on making all your own decisions and defying the principal's preferences, the principal is well within her rights to deny you use of the school building or the school communication mechanisms (newsletter, backpack express, etc.).

And in that kind of battle, no one wins.

The flip side is also true. Principals who insist on complete control and micromanaging every part of the PTO almost always lose volunteers over time and wind up with a less effective PTO. Research says that's terrible for a school, and -- practically speaking -- that principal will sure miss the financial and political support that comes from an engaged, empowered PTO.

Both sides have to continue working toward cooperation, communication, and a shared passion for making the school great.

We've had several helpful features on this very topic over the past several years:

Whose Rules, School or PTO?
Make the Principal Your Partner
How To Work With a New Principal