Nearly three-quarters of Newton parents surveyed would willingly donate to a central Parent Teacher Organization fund, according to a report released Nov. 4 by the Equity Working Group at the School Committee meeting.
The June 2019 community-wide survey, which received 1,601 responses, addressed the feasibility and interest in a central fund for Newton Public Schools.
The Equity Working Group, a branch of the Equity Committee, was created in November 2018 to “consider the feasibility of pooling PTO funds to achieve more equitable distribution of resources across the schools without further limiting the financial support that PTOs may provide.”
The group is composed of six members: Peirce Elementary School Principal Mark Chitty and five parents of children in the Newton school system, including School Committee member Kathy Shields.
The group defines equity as “substantially similar access to enrichment opportunities and teacher classroom support across all schools. Equity also means that every individual and demographic group feels a sense of belonging in the community,” according to the report.
About 90 percent of the survey’s respondents said they donate to their PTO and 73 percent said they would contribute financially to, or participate in, a central fund of some kind. Kerry Prasad, a parent on the working group, said “that key piece of information…leads us to the conclusion that a central fund is feasible and realistic.”
The majority of respondents also favored allocating funds from a central fund to schools with the greatest need, meaning the “lower your school sits below a given threshold, the more your school would receive from the central fund,” Prasad told the School Committee.
The question then becomes how does the Equity Working Group determine these levels of need.
School Committee member Bridget Ray-Canada pointed out the lack of school diversity on the working group, asking “How do you know the need if you’re not talking to the people who need it?”
Group members agreed that determining how need is assessed still needs to be fleshed out.
The survey also asked how money should be raised for a central fund, with three options coming out on top: corporate donations, citywide fundraisers separate from PTOs, and individual PTO contributions. The final option came with a caveat from many respondents that PTO contributions should be optional, allowing PTOs to remain autonomous in choosing how they spend their money.
The survey asked respondents questions about PTO inclusivity, central fund allocation methods, fundraising, and spending. Prasad said that the survey required respondents to assume the existence of a central fund in their responses, although one does not currently exist.
The presentation brought before the School Committee, which can be found here and in this week’s School Committee Update email, showed “a very good representation of the NPS family community,” according to the report.
To summarize, Prasad said Newton “is a generous community where people value education and they wish to support their children’s growth and their children’s learning” and that the Equity Working Group will continue its research to bring forth the best options for this central fund.
Those living in the city’s neighborhoods are generous, and the PTOs are a very hard-working group of volunteers who are doing their best to serve the community, Prasad said.
Following the meeting, Shields said the aim of the update was “to give enough detail so that it makes sense without overwhelming people,” but that the Equity Working Group wanted more feedback from the School Committee.
“The way I anticipate doing that is by having more one-on-one communications because it’s hard in a forum like this to really say, ‘What would you think if we did it this way versus that way?’”
Shields agreed with Ray-Canada that more school-specific feedback should be included going forward.
In terms of next steps, the working group needs to “figure out the how-do-we-give-money formula and try to keep it simple and straightforward,” Shields said, while also determining who would administer the funds.
The Equity Working Group plans to give its next update in January 2020.