What Is Up With The PTA?


PTAI’m going to start right off and admit that I’m still a newbie, but so far, the PTA is INTENSE.

I joined the PTA before I even had a kid enrolled in the public school system because I wanted to fight a proposed housing development that would take over a piece of property near our school that contained many beloved businesses. The PTA was going to take a stance on this development, and since I was bitten by the community activism bug, I decided to help research and protest. My only participation that year was to attend specific meetings where this project would be discussed, so I was lulled into a false sense of calm.

This year, I’m starting to see the bigger picture.

I am quite a slacker in terms of participation (Because these meetings happen at like 8 a.m. and who has time for that?). But I hear tidbits along the way from way better members than I am, and I attended a few meetings where I got a sense of what this parents club is all about.

For starters, the PTA does basically everything for their school.

You know those fancy tax dollars you pay? They get allocated across your whole district, so if there is a large range of needs across different locations, the schools with the biggest needs get the most dollars. That just makes sense to me, so no big deal there. But that means that some schools have to make up almost their whole budget through fundraising dollars that the PTA raises.

And this, my friends, is why little Johnny or Susie are seemingly consistently peddling stuff you don’t need but feel compelled to purchase.

There’s also all the “A-thons” over the course of the year and other spirit-type programs which are basically fundraisers in disguise. Often schools will also have a bigger annual fundraising event that is very obviously advertised as such. The PTA then uses this money to fund the fun and fluffy stuff like holiday programs, art classes, and other enrichment programs. They also allocate money to be used for school maintenance, educational programs, and also security and other types of programs that we like but probably have no idea how much they actually cost.

It is also the PTA’s job to make sure that we as parents don’t try to make it rain if there’s a surplus, because they know exactly where the money needs to be spent and it almost always gets used up by June.

Which means that every time some money needs to be allocated to something, they take a looooong time trying to decide if they should. I think this is wise because we should be fiscally responsible so all out neighborhood kids get a great and enriching educational experience, but sometimes I just want to scream watching an hour-long debate to settle a single budget line item.

I’m also discovering that there’s a built-in social hierarchy in the PTA, and you can quickly discover who the movers and shakers are.

So far, no one is socially ostracizing in my group, but I’m guessing there are the “cool kids” and then there’s everyone else (I’m definitely part of the “everyone else” crowd). I love putting my old social psychology skills to use as I take careful observations of this social order.

Overall, however, the PTA is pretty amazing because it does SO MUCH to help our kids.

They are the backbone of almost every “extra” that you see, and our kids are super fortunate to have a dedicated group of parents provide such a supportive and enriching environment. But for now, I think I’ll continue to drop in sporadically because I can only handle so much at a time.



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Megan Phillips is a licensed clinical psychologist who owns a private practice that specializes in helping women and moms in Orange County (www.cottonwoodpsychologycenter.com). She is from the Pacific Northwest, but she and her husband decided to escape the rain and move to warm, sunny Southern California in 2012. Since then, she became a mom to a smart and funny little boy and an adorable baby girl. Megan enjoys cooking and taking in the local sights, and she is always up for a fun mommy’s night out.