Friday, December 07, 2012

PTSO Bazaar

Back when I was a bold, bad paratrooper hanging out the door and kicking the ramp plates of a USAF C-130 over Panama I have to admit I would never in my maddest fantasy have pictured myself as a "PTA Dad". And, yet, here I am.
What's worse - or better, or at least different - is that I am also now the Astor Elementary PTSO (which stands for "parent-teacher-student organization" for those of you not hep to the latest public school slang) Volunteer Coordinator, a booby prize of exceptional ridiculosity earned because at the last meeting I felt bad that none of the more experienced, wiser PTA parents was willing to die on that particular hill.

Whatever happened to the "don't ever volunteer for nuthin'" paratroop sergeant I haven't the faintest fucking idea.
The latest manifestation of this madness was our participation in the annual PTA/PTSO Christmas bazaar. For two weeks we went crafty-mad making schwag to sell at this magilla; Mojo used her incredibly Mad Serger Skilz to sew up napkins, hankies, and little snack bags. She also repeated the terrific gift box idea she got last year, where she took old 33 1/3 LP covers and hot glue and made boxes. The Liberace one was pure over-the-top post-ironic hipster gold
The kiddos made gift tags.

My contribution were these:
Ornaments for the obsessed Portland Timbers fan, the perfect decoration for that Hanukkah bush or Holiday Tree. Mind you, I had to lean pretty heavily on the Cascadia Cup seeing as how that was the one pleasant memory of the past disastrous season...

And, for the record, the hankies and gift boxes were boss. Of the fifty-odd dollars we ended up making probably $40 came from Deb's crafty goodness. It says something about my future as a Christmas kitsch-crafter that the portion of my collection of Timbers scarves I used as part of the selling strategy drew as much or more interest than the actual bling.
But the whole idea wasn't to make money for the family (tho that was how my kids saw it, unsurprisingly...) but for the school, and I believe that the PTSO cleared several hundred dollars.

And that's the reality of "public education" in my city and country circa 2012. No, we don't get a lavish budget for Astor school while the Air Force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.
Instead we get some portion of the basic sort of wherewithal to give our kids a post-industrial-revolution education from the public purse but the dadoes and finials - everything beyond the building and the people in it and the supplies they need to teach the little mongers to read and cypher - has to come from this constant drumfire of fund-raising.
Music classes, field trips, drawing materials, athletic gear...all must be paid for somehow, and the Portland taxpayer buys into Grover Norquist's dream of a tax-free world like every other taxpayer. Price of Civilization be damned.
So the smaller aspects of my children's school days are dependent on little groups of giggling girls racing about an echoing gymnasium on a sunny Saturday afternoon and the parents behind them who are asked, again, and again, to reach into their lives and find something extra for their children.


Ael said...

The best fund raising strategy I have found is grocery gift cards.
The larger grocery chains will sell bulk gift cards at some bulk discount between 5 and 10% (depending on how many cards are ordered). You sell the cards at par.

This results in no direct costs to the purchaser, and since homes with kids can easily spend hundreds of dollars a month on groceries, a 10% cut can add up pretty fast. You can also sell the cards to co-workers and since it is at par, you are not asking for any direct donation from this.

Finally, people eat every day, so once you have established the card pipeline the money rolls in, month after month, with little additional effort

FDChief said...

At Astor it's called "scrip", Ael, and our PTSO sells the hell out of it.

Our reality is, tho, that something like 60-65% of our kiddos' families qualify for the "reduced price lunch" deal - the lead standard for public school poverty - so their ability to buy this scrip is limited.

So the families that CAN, like mine, do. But the constantly-having-to-reach-for-the-wallet shit gets real old real fast when you know that the schools like Bridlemile and Skyline are rolling in cash.

I'm whingeing. I know that nothing's going to change and that there's nothing I can do about that short of a full-on socialist rebellion at the state level where the wealthy districts are forced to level the $$$ across the board and that ain't gonna happen.

But I'd like to see, at least, some moderation in the degree of inequality between the "good" schools in Portland and the poorer ones like ours...

Leon said...

Speaking about forcing the Air Force to hold a bake sale. I just saw a headline that Canada's cancelling their contract for F-35's due to cost overruns (and more likely due to widespread public unpopularity). So the AF won't have to hold fundraisers to pay for the ever-increasing cost (though it means your AF will be paying more for each individual plane so I hope they grease up their cookie pans - that's a lot of cookies per plane).

Hopefully we pick something more advanced but affordable. Personally I'd laugh if we selected the Su-27 and watch the US military-industrial complex's head explode.

Ael said...

Ah yes, I forgot your funding model. Up here in Communist Alberta, the province takes away all the education property tax from the towns and cities and puts it into a single pot. They then add some more money and give it to the school boards on a (more or less) equal per student amount. This kinda assures somewhat equality on funding (it gets complicated for all sorts of reasons: rural areas, special needs, special programs get bonuses. Capital programmes have political bonuses, etc.

The great unwashed ensure that private schools don't get much funding from the province (which tends to keep all but the extremely wealthy in the public system. The now trapped mid and upper middle class tend to be more active within the system and keep the school boards and government delivering an adequate education for their kids (and since funding is per student, this ensures that the inner city schools get enough money as well)

Thus pretty much everyone goes to an adequate school (except natives on reserves which have huge problems - both institutional and economic). We also tend to lack superlatively funded schools, but kids in richer neighborhoods do, somehow, end up with richer opportunities in "non-core" activities. (field trips, etc.) No surprise.

FDChief said...

Leon: The apparent invulnerability of our DoD in an era where the "Threat" is a gaggle of raggedy-assed Muhammad wanna-bes lurking in the unpaved portions of central Asia is one of the great mysteries of our Age. One day the Gorkian xenoanthropologists will examine our records and find it as indecypherable as Linear B.

Ael: We actually ended up with something kinda similar because the inequalities produced by the devastated property tax base in the poor districts was so inescapable that even our the-law-in-its-impartial-majesty courts couldn't ignore it. So now we do something similar; the State of Oregon rakes in all the $$$ and then distributes it by the head.

But..."No Child Left Behind" has had the effect of raping the poorer districts. The decent teachers STILL don't want to teach there and so the decent students STILL want out, and if the school is tagged "failing" then the district HAS to let the kids who want to transfer out. Which means that any kid whose parents are engaged enough to fight for his or her future does and the "failing" school is left with the kids of the crack-mommas and deadbeat dads.

You can imagine how well THAT works.

So the cumulative effect is - surprise! - the rich get richer and the poor poorer. Which is the way of the world. The only thing that really gets up my wick is that we pretend anything else.

Leon said...

Communism in Alberta!?!? Hide the children!

Didn't realize there was a fellow Canuck following the Chief's blog. Canada represent!

Lisa said...

I remember these bazaars, too (and my school was in what was considered a pilot district back in the day.) The mom's would bake stuff and make tissue paper flowers and such. Deb's boxes are brilliant, and your contribution was good, too, and kudos for chairing the activity.

It's too bad schools must do this, but I suppose those are the wages of living in our corporate system.

FDChief said...

We're in a tougher spot than most, too, Lisa, since many of our parents don't have the time to do what Debra and I did, and many more don't have the money to buy the trinkets. But, again, the "good" schools have tons of energy and money to kick down the little extras. It just adds up over time to the feeling of getting beat down...

Lisa said...

I totally understand, and saw it in the school district in which I worked. Even the school in the "better" zone worked from 20 year old textbooks, and the teachers were often left to source their own materials if they wished to take a more progressive approach.

Now there are also charter schools and magnet schools (in the better regions, of course) that lack for nothing. The parochial schools always manage, as does the school affiliated with the university. ISTM when people are enthusiastic and feel part of a team, they will dig deep.

It sounds like your school has many students from disenfranchised families, which is the new segregation -- it need not even run along color lines; it does, however, run along economic fault lines.

It can matter when even a few families spearhead a movement. I remember your grounds cleaning project didn't garner much attention, but I suspect that is due to a learned helplessness and lives in disarray. I once volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and was surprised that the inhabitants didn't offer a hand ... perhaps they had never done any upkeep.

FDChief said...

I've always wondered about the whole "learned helplessness" trope, Lisa. My suspicion is that the broad theme of human history is that something like 88% of the human race spends its time tending its own little patch and is perfectly happy to let everyone else go hang.

That and I wonder if it's "learned" or just the nature of most humans to sit around on their dead asses most of the time; what has to be "learned" is the motivation to get up and do something, how to do those things, and where and who you need to go to to do them?

If there's one thing I've learned from life in general it's that most humans really are fairly inert unless there's something they want, and even then a fair number find the effort too much trouble for the reward.

Sad, but there you have it - 1.8 million years in a nutshell.

Lisa said...

Your summation is terse ...

"what has to be 'learned' is the motivation to get up and do something" --

Spot-on. The 88% is probably correct.

As an aside: Living in the Deep South, I feel that religion keeps many people "little" and in their place. If people knew the degree of agency which they could assert in life, what need would they have of the "Sky Daddy", as you call him?