YORK, Maine — Questions have swirled in the York school community recently about the motivation of some board members of the newly created York Parent Teacher Association and even about the legality of the chapter itself. And all can be answered forthrightly, said PTA president Meghan May.
At a meeting last week, in online forums, and in emails to the state PTA and to the York Weekly, parents and others have raised a number of issues about the group that started the local chapter — and have wondered whether its formation could fracture and polarize the community instead of unifying it as organizers hope.
Key among the concerns is the fact that that several of the PTA board members are critics of the controversial proficiency-based learning curriculum at the middle school — including May, who has spoken publicly on the subject.
May said it doesn’t matter what the executive board feels about any particular issue — the membership itself sets the agenda.
“The perception [that the board has an agenda] comes from a lack of understanding of this kind of organization. This is shared governance. Local chapters can not lobby for anything that its membership does not want,” she said. “I’ve said this repeatedly, and it falls on deaf ears. It’s not possible for a chapter to advocate for a position that the group doesn’t take. If we violate that, we lose our governance status.”
May said she sees the chapter as a way for parents and teachers to provide a unified voice to administrators and the School Committee that is currently lacking systemwide in York. While each school has its own parent group, “there is no overarching unified group that would provide continuity and that would also have national backing. It seems like a natural fit.”
Another question involves the legality of the PTA’s formation. The first open meeting on March 7 was held after a small founding group of about 12 parents gathered and, among other things, selected the executive board. Ginny Mott, Maine PTA president said several York parents contacted her and questioned whether the board was properly formed — as the larger group meeting had not yet been held.
“Absolutely, they are properly formed,” said Mott. “This is the first time anyone has raised these issues. People see what they want to see, but the chapter was very properly formed.”
May said she overheard two women she didn’t know in Hannaford’s talking about forming a PTA and had been thinking about the same thing.
“That is how this thing happened. It is possible without a secret society being formed for this to happen. We had conversations among people and said we’re having a meeting, please come. It formed organically.”
The 12 people there, who met in the weeks prior to March 7, became PTA members, elected a board, and set the date for the bigger meeting — all of which Mott said is perfectly legal.
“Frankly, it wouldn’t have been possible to efficiently and effectively form a chapter with 100 people in the room,” said May. “A lot of work went into this. It was not an easy thing to do.”
Administrators were not invited to the formational meeting, said May, although she said typically they are the ones to provide expertise. She said it was the feeling of the small group that the administration had been asked in the past to start a PTA “and it wasn’t a priority. They’d say, ‘Oh yes, we’d love to do this,’ but then years would go by and nothing would happen.”
Superintendent Debra Dunn said the administration had been spending its time working to strengthen the parent organizations already in existence at the schools.
Finally, there were concerns that teachers had been left out of the March 7 meeting — an allegation May admits is partially her fault. She said she sent a letter of invitation to Dunn and building administrators, but did not specifically mention disseminating the information to teachers.
“If I had to do it over again, I’d do it differently,” she said.
York High School teacher Jeff Smith, president of the York Teachers Association, said principal Bob Stevens did share the letter with him and he in turn worked to get the word out to the rank and file. He is meeting with May this week to introduce himself and to discuss issues.
Smith said he hopes teachers become involved in the PTA.
“The advantage of a PTA might be one centralized group to help with things like teacher evaluation and PBL so that there’s consistency,” he said. “Hopefully, a PTA can clear up communication.”