Local PTSAs struggle with lack of volunteers
The Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) is a staple in schools across the country. Their versatile roles include organizing events for the families of students, as well as providing funding for programs not covered by the school district, including classroom grants, school supplies and equipment, and stipends.
In terms of funding, some schools in the area seem to be doing well. But lately, a common problem has sprung in schools in the Sammamish area — the shortage of volunteers.
“When it comes to leading the events, that is where we’re facing the real volunteer crunch,” said Dipti Agrawal, 44, the PTSA President at Samantha Smith Elementary School.
Many PTSAs across the area have plenty of money to spend this year, especially due to having budget reserves from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Middle and high school PTSAs also accept donations and receive additional support from student government and booster clubs. However, in elementary schools, large fundraisers, hosted by their PTSAs, are their main source of money.
At Samantha Smith Elementary, most of the PTSA’s funding comes from their annual fun run fundraiser called the Dolphin Dash, which occurred in early October. The money raised from this event supports funding for library books, field trips, and key events such as their STEM fair.
Cascade Ridge Elementary’s main annual Fall Fundraiser, the first in-person one since the pandemic, exceeded expectations in terms of funding and participation from the community. In addition to enrichment programs, the funds go towards teacher grants to improve classroom facilities and staff appreciation programs.
“But again, you can have all the money in the world but if you don’t have people to run the programs, that’s a loss too,” said Nigar Suleman, 49, Legislative Rep. for Cascade Ridge’s PTSA.
Agrawal, who runs Smith Elementary’s PTSA, said it has been a struggle to garner volunteers for roles that include a time commitment.
Her PTSA consists of up to nine to 10 board members with specific individual roles, such as treasurer, VP of fundraising, VP of communications, and committee liaison. While they provide financial support and guidance for events, they count on parent volunteers to organize these events.
Parents often express interest in one-day tasks, like setup and takedown, but the real challenge is finding volunteers for the larger roles, according to Agrawal.
Due to this lack of volunteers, PTSA board members often must take on these other roles on top of their board duties.
Evergreen Middle School has also faced volunteer shortages. Manda Mangrai, 49, the president of Evergreen’s PTSA, explained that last year, their vice president of enrichment had to take on the Reflections Arts Program in addition to her responsibilities because there were no volunteers to do it.
“It’s just not sustainable,” Mangrai said.
Another pattern across schools was that most volunteers tend to be the same set of people each year.
Mangrai explained that due to this, the same number of people are having to do more work and the lack of interest potentially reduces the number of programs that the PTSA can offer. For instance, the role of vice president of advocacy on her board has been left open for a long time.
“It’s really hard to engage new people coming in,” said Mangrai.
Suleman has also seen the same, regular set of volunteers at Cascade Ridge Elementary, many of whom have already been on the board for multiple terms. Burnout is a serious issue.
In order to encourage new volunteers, Cascade Ridge is trying to recruit earlier, and match skill sets to roles. Evergreen is doing the same thing in their newsletters by tying volunteering opportunities to individual passions, such as arts and theater programs. Samantha Smith Elementary makes a point to assure parents that they will provide training for new volunteers to help them onboard to a new role.
While all PTSAs acknowledge that they know parents are very busy or may still be recovering from the effects of the pandemic, they highly encourage anyone who can spare time to put that towards helping their school community.
“PTSAs thrive mainly on the full participation of volunteers and community members,” said Suleman.