FARNER: School PTAs as important as ever

As technology and new teaching techniques continue to evolve and become more visible in schools, teachers, administrators are forced to look for creative ways for funding.

There were several reminders this week that each school's Parent Teacher Association is vital to meet expectations and keep students on track. As budgets continue to shrink, or get squeezed in important areas, PTAs fundraisers and donations, and extra funding through grants are becoming the way to absorb economic cuts.

The more you talk to teachers and principals, the more they seem to say that basic, essential supplies and resources are not assumed anymore. That's why outside money through donations and fundraisers is crucial.

At Riverside Elementary in recent years the PTA has added a piano lab for the music department so students have access to keyboards and pianos they might not have otherwise. The Riverside PTA also added playground equipment, and last week brought in a consultant to provide staff development and new reading strategies teachers can implement.

"We want to make sure that our teachers have what they need, so our students have what they need to succeed," Riverside PTA vice president Amy Ward said.

Each PTA typically works with the school principal to identify funding priorities.

At Roberts Elementary, that priority is iPads and other interactive devices to work with a smartboard in the classroom. To pay for several iPads for each classroom, which is about $10,000 to $15,000, the PTA encouraged donations and added the incentive for students that the school would host a BMX bike stunt show if they reached certain fundraising levels.

Staff development is a popular choice teachers usually choose when asked how they can be supported. That's how Level Creek Elementary used its $1,000 it earned last year for being named a School of Excellence. They spent it on training teachers in daily work with students to learn on a deeper level.

The Roberts PTA, which brings in about $100,000 each year, provides grants for teachers to purchase specific supplies. Principal Dion Jones said funding like that and for technology helps his budget, because he doesn't have to spend school funds on those items.

Without the PTA's help, buying a bundle of iPads, for example, would take several years using school funds. When the PTA gets involved, "it cuts that time in half," he said. "It makes a difference, a huge difference."

Valerie Vickrey, a PTA vice president at Roberts in charge of fundraising, said budget cuts shouldn't stand in the way of a quality education.

Since Roberts is a relatively new school, the PTA contributions help it play catch up for things like books, playground equipment and products to learn technology.

"That's what we're here for to help them when the county budget doesn't meet educational requirements," she said. "Ultimately, our kids education shouldn't suffer because of county budget cuts."

Keith Farner covers Suwanee for the Daily Post. Reach him at keith.farner@gwinnettdailypost.com.