Allegations make PTA sound like Plots, Tension and Adversaries

The ouster of Georgia PTA President Lisa-Marie Haygood has created a firestorm in the organization.
The ouster of Georgia PTA President Lisa-Marie Haygood has created a firestorm in the organization.

The ongoing saga of the Georgia PTA deserves its own reality TV show.

After the ouster nine days ago of state PTA president Lisa-Marie Haygood, members have come forward with allegations against the group’s board of directors ranging from conspiracy and coups to nepotism and nefarious spending. Some board members quit in protest over Haygood’s removal; others were forced out, leaving nine vacancies among the 40 board and advisory slots.

If you were going to alienate anyone, PTA parents are among the most formidable, adept at rapid communication and organization. So, the fallout has been swift and dramatic, with angry local PTA activists advising their schools to leave the group and become an unaffiliated Parent Teacher Organization. Or, stay with the PTA but submit only the minimum requirement of 25 dues-paying members so less money goes to underwrite the state board.

Former board members describe intrigues and plots worthy of “Game of Thrones.” I’ve heard allegations that influential black board members forced out white members — and that was shared by black PTA leaders from metro Atlanta. Although race seems to have been a factor, Haygood also ran up against a culture that appears to have valued blind loyalty above all else. A Cherokee parent with a reform-minded agenda, Haygood apparently violated the unspoken loyalty pact when she added a fraud investigator and tried to limit the number of PTA officials entitled to attend this summer’s national conference in Las Vegas.

The board members who orchestrated the overthrow adopted a bunker mentality after the news broke, pledging on their Facebook page to be transparent, yet deleting critical comments. “Georgia PTA has blocked me, a former Local Unit president, Local Unit vice president, Council president, convention planner, convention speaker, Family Engagement State Council member and PTA cheerleader from commenting, posting or liking anything on the GaPTA Facebook page,” said Adam Belanger of Cherokee County.

In the first statement sent to me, newly named PTA president Tyler Barr referred to Haygood’s departure as “mutual,” which met with immediate rebuke from dozens of PTA members and was never uttered again.

A second statement sent out by Barr said: “On Saturday, January 28, 2017, the Georgia PTA President, Lisa-Marie Haygood, was removed from the Board properly and in accordance with the Association’s bylaws and policies. Georgia PTA president-elect Tyler Barr automatically assumes the role of President of the Association and will serve as the official spokesperson on behalf of the 2015-17 Georgia PTA Board of Directors. We strongly disagree with any accusations of impropriety about the Board’s handling of affairs, and will defend ourselves vigorously.”

A new Facebook group, Ad Hoc Committee to Restore GA PTA, sprung up to challenge the board. In an irony noted on the new Facebook page, a few days after the board unseated Haygood, Georgia PTA won a National PTA award for its advocacy around the Opportunity School District proposal. As PTA president, Haygood led the fight, making 90 presentations about the risks of state takeover of schools. A self-described conservative who campaigned for Nathan Deal, Haygood became the face and voice of the OSD opposition.

Haygood herself has refrained from public comment, citing a confidentiality agreement. But others have leaped to her defense.

“With Lisa-Marie, the Georgia PTA was in the best position it has been in years to help influence education debate in the state and put parents back in the conversation because parents have been out of it for some time. Frankly, that’s gone,” said John Palmer, a teacher adviser to the board. Palmer was among those who resigned last week in protest.

Georgia PTA members have been pleading with the National PTA to intervene, but that appears unlikely based on the statement given to me: “National PTA is separately incorporated from our state PTAs and each has its own … nonprofit status. As such, we are not a ‘parent company’ that can intervene and correct perceived or real inequities except in restricted situations as directed by our membership and Board of Directors through our Bylaws and Standards of Affiliation. National PTA has been in communication with the past and current state leadership to assess whether this situation would meet those intervention standards.”

It’s difficult to understand how a volunteer organization that has done so much for kids could get tripped up by petty politics for what seem to be such low stakes.

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