As members flee, Georgia PTA risks status, stability

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

On probation for a coup that ousted a revered president and under siege from a growing revolt in the ranks, the leadership of the Georgia PTA is burrowing deeper into its bunker.

When the embattled board emerges and takes stock, it’s likely to find a changed landscape. Dozens of PTAs have decided to initiate the complicated process of dissolving to become independent PTOs or Parent Teacher Organizations. Sixteen of 24 PTA units in Forsyth County plan to dissolve.
Defections have risen after the National PTA placed the Georgia PTA on probation in March over alleged misconduct related to the January removal of President Lisa-Marie Haygood. A Cherokee parent, Haygood led the PTA’s successful campaign last fall against the Opportunity School District.

“Clearly, the situation in Georgia is a departure from our important mission,” said National PTA President Laura Bay.

Adding to the skepticism about the stability of the Georgia PTA, its annual signature event, a statewide convention scheduled for June, was postponed without explanation. New state PTA President Tyler Barr sent me a note Friday night saying a new date will be announced next week.

Former Georgia PTA second vice president Marina Staples of Gwinnett County was among the leaders removed through a series of maneuvers by the reigning board. “Basically, there is a board sitting there holding spaces for a PTA that is literally falling apart,” said Staples. “I believe in the PTA brand. I totally do. What I don’t believe in are the people sitting in that boardroom right now.”

Staples and other PTA members contend the board is more concerned with its self-serving agenda than salvaging the organization. A concern of both white and African-American PTA leaders around the state: The ringleaders of the takeover are sowing racial dissent and running roughshod over policies and people in their way.

Barr maintains the evidence will vindicate the actions of the controlling faction that engineered the removal of Haygood. But the National PTA is still awaiting that evidence, contending Georgia PTA has yet to adequately address questions about transparency, financial oversight and bylaw violations.

A damning resolution by local PTA councils in Georgia cites a host of offenses, including: “punitive policies that were then made retroactive with the intent of denying qualified volunteers from being eligible to serve on the Board of Georgia PTA…continuing actions of the Georgia PTA leadership damaging the PTA brand…continuing concern that Georgia PTA funds are being used in an inappropriate manner and all requests for financial disclosure have been denied” and the postponement of “the annual convention where elections are held for new leadership.”

The resolution urges National PTA to immediately remove the current Georgia PTA leadership and conduct oversight of the nominations for and election of new officers for Georgia PTA at a convention “before July 1 so that new leadership for Georgia PTA can be elected and installed with adequate time to allow district, councils, and local units time to plan for and conduct membership drives to support the new leadership.”

“It remains our sincere hope that Georgia PTA swiftly finds an equitable resolution to its conflict that embraces the needs of the greatest number of members and leaders. It is essential that we get back to our mission and valuable work to make a difference for our children, families, schools and communities,” said Bay.

Barr insists Georgia PTA is not crumbling, saying, “Currently, the state office received one dissolution from a local PTA. I look forward to assisting other local PTAs with any issues to continue their support for our children. I understand we have experienced changes but Georgia PTA is not in a crisis and remain a strong association.”
Georgia has been a strong pillar for the PTA, sending thousands of dollars to the state and national offices from member dues. Now, there are fears any National PTA censure of the board will represent too little too late to reverse the exodus of parents. The national president hopes local PTAs in Georgia will not flee.

“PTA’s power is in our collective voice,” said Bay. “Though it may be tempting to withdraw from PTA when there is conflict, those that work through the conflict together end up having the greatest capacity to serve our children and families. Over PTA’s 120 year history there has been more than one struggle, but PTA has, and always will, not only survive but flourish once our attention returns to our mission.”