- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Public school PTAs, band boosters and similar groups now have to follow more rules when fundraising for schools, including rules on what the money buys.
The new policy approved last week by the St. Mary’s County Board of Education outlines several things these parent organizations can and cannot do. The policy addresses some concerns that have cropped up over the last few years, according to school officials.
“None of those people are our people, but they do stuff on behalf of our schools” and need to be held to a certain standard, Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, said of the volunteers in school-affiliated organizations.
The new guidelines will help avoid duplicate services and noncompliance issues with the organizations, which are separate legally from the school, he said. While such groups offer great benefits for schools, Nourse said, “There’s no control out there.”
For example, over the last couple of school years, PTAs at two schools paid the salary for a paraeducator. “Legally they cannot do that,” Nourse said. This is not allowed by either the school system’s new policy or PTA bylaws.
The groups can, however, pay school employees for supplemental duty that occurs outside of normal duties, Nourse said.
For instance, a group could pay a stipend for an employee to sponsor a specific after-school club or team that is not normally offered.
The money should be paid to the school system, which in turn will cut the check to the employee, Nourse said.
The groups can give awards to individual employees as long as they do not exceed $20 in value.
School system employees can no longer serve on a PTA or booster executive board, although they may be a general member of a school-affiliated organization. Principals or other school employees can still serve as an ex officio member, according to the new policy.
School employees are not to be involved in an organization's financial affairs, including as an authorized signer on any bank account, according to the policy.
The groups must show liability insurance with minimum $1 million limits of coverage.
Trisha Post, president of the St. Mary’s County Council of PTAs, said she had discussed many of the changes earlier this year with school administrators and agreed that more consistency was needed.
“I think it will help the PTAs,” Post said. “We’re there to assist the schools” and do not want to be a hinderance, she said.
PTAs and boosters can raise money and give it to the school for specific equipment, such as interactive white boards and other classroom supplies, or items for school staff such as a refrigerator, coffee maker or paper goods.
They may not buy computers for the schools because of the school system’s new computer lease that will distribute computers uniformally throughout the county.
Because some of the changes will do away with actions that have been done for years, Nourse said he expected the groups to use this as a transition year and that all of the new provisions should be adhered to by next school year.
Board moves money
Referring to several changes to finish out last year’s budget, Superintendent Michael Martirano told school board members, “Some of the variables are out of our control.”
The school board last week approved adding a $78,000 quality teacher incentive grant from the Maryland State Department of Education. That stipend was divvied out to teachers at Spring Ridge Middle School.
“It’s not part of your approved budget, but we did get it in,” Nourse said.
The incentive grant has been awarded to schools that are identified as needing improvement for extended years.
Nourse said he was unsure if the grant would be doled out again this year; it came through at the end of the fiscal year this summer.
The board also moved $47,000 from utilities to instructional salaries to help cover extra substitute teachers needed and pay for additional home and hospital teaching.
Nourse said that the number of sick days used by teachers and other school staff last year was abnormally high because of “catastrophic illnesses.”
The board earlier this year added $180,000 for substitutes, but needed to add another $13,000 to balance the line item for the end of the year.
The total initially budgeted for teacher substitutes in fiscal year 2012 was $924,215.
“We’re going to have to keep an eye on substitutes,” Nourse said.
The board added another $28,000 for home and hospital teachers, who deliver instruction at home to students who are out sick or being disciplined at home for extended periods.
The board already added about $25,000 in May to that line item, which was budgeted at $140,000.
“You did a pretty good estimate,” school board member Mary Washington said. “We don’t have a crystal ball, we just cannot see the real numbers” ahead of time, Washington added.
The board also needed to add $6,000 for stipends paid to teachers acting as mentors to teachers in their third year.
Teachers receive mentor support an extra year now and are not eligible for tenure until after their third year of teaching, as mandated by state law.