What does the PTA pay for?
I can't find the link now, but last week I heard a story on NPR about a PTA that was buying paper for the teachers to use in the classroom, with money they had been saving for new playground equipment. The reporter was shocked that this was necessary, but I went to public schools in New York City in the 1970s, and I definitely remember the school running out of paper (for the mimeos!) by late in the term.
Laura at 11d linked to this article about a Long Island school district where parents raised over half a million dollars to preserve school sports and other extracurriculars after the school system's budget was turned down. Laura wonders if this undermines school equity. I'm less worried about that situation, where the largess seems to have been spread across the whole district, than the situation you sometimes see where parents raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for specific schools, sometimes hiring extra teachers. They're willing to do it, because it's still cheaper than private school.
Our school PTA's total annual budget is about $25,000, with the largest fundraisers being sale of Sally Foster giftwrap, a silent auction, and a craft fair. When the economy gets better, I want to look into putting the big items for the auction online and marketing them outside the school community — we get some really nice donations, but there's just not enough people in the school who can afford them for them to go for more than the minimum bid. But we sweat the small stuff too. We had an election day bakesale, and we collect General Mills box tops.
What do we pay for? The two biggest expenses are teacher workshops and training, and buses to let each class go on two field trips a year. We buy some computer equipment for the school (smart boards) and books for the school library. We bring in visiting authors, and give all the teachers small stipends to cover some of the things they buy for the classroom, which otherwise come out of their pockets. It's not a ton of money, but it makes life measurably better for the school.
Oh yeah, and we also pay for cheese sandwiches for kids who don't have lunch money. Unlike in some places, this hasn't been a big deal. My guess is that it's because slightly more than half of the school qualifies for free or reduced price lunch, so the kids who wind up getting cheese sandwiches aren't particularly poor. They're either kids whose families are having sudden hard times and haven't gotten the paperwork in, or they're kids who just forgot to bring in lunch money. We do send a note to the parents, asking them to reimburse the PTA and giving them info on how to apply for school lunches.
(By contrast, with hindsight, I'm horrified at the memory of the oh-so-progressive elementary school I attended, where only the kids who ate "hot lunch" sat in the cafeteria, and everyone else ate in the auditorium. The hot lunch was notoriously awful, and I'm sure that everyone who ate it was getting the free lunch. Sigh.)
What does your PTA pay for? And do you think it's appropriate?