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National PTA sanctions Georgia PTA for failing to justify removal of president. Can this organization be saved?

The Georgia PTA leadership continues to imperil the reputation and viability of the organization after a January coup that dismayed rank and file members. Now, the National PTA is citing the state chapter for noncompliance and has placed it on probation. You can read the full sanction letter below.

But here is a key passage in the March 29 letter from National PTA President Laura Bay to Georgia PTA:

National PTA is deeply concerned about fractured relationships that are driving units and individuals away from Georgia PTA when engagement is often the best way to address internal state PTA problems. We worry about the long-term consequences of such fractures on the lives of Georgia’s children and the well-being of Georgia’s families.

You can find my original blogs on this controversy here and here.

To recap this drama, here is how my colleague Ty Tagami described the melodrama in a February news story:

The board of directors, which is supposed to represent the interests of parents, teachers and children, staged what vanquished former members describe as a hostile takeover with racial overtones. In recent months, a controlling faction of the board voted off several peers, black and white. There are questions about an election where more ballots were counted than there were delegates voting, plus claims that clever alterations to policies and procedures allowed the faction to hijack the organization.

It peaked last month when the board removed its president, a white woman who led the PTA to a prominent political victory that earned a national award for advocacy. Other board members have been removed or resigned in protest and hope the publicity from the tempest will cause members to stop paying dues and trigger a reckoning.

"It is just a huge mess, " said Barbara Pitts, an Atlantan who resigned from the board recently, frustrated by meetings that got bogged down by bickering about who got to go on expenses-paid trips. Pitts, who is black, said the disputes were often racially tinged and that the board is controlled by black members. "All of it was petty, " she said. "I think that whole board needs to be cleaned out."

I agree with Pitts: The board ought to resign now for the sake of the PTA.

I understand more local units are considering abandoning PTA and becoming a non-affiliated PTO. Those local units remain concerned about the removal of popular president Lisa-Marie Haygood in late January and the refusal of the current leadership to adequately explain its reasons.

The PTA board appears more concerned with retaining its power than preserving the organization. Newly installed President Tyler Barr maintained the evidence would bear out the actions by a controlling faction in engineering the removal of Haygood and others.

In a statement earlier, Barr said:  "The action of removing the former Georgia PTA President, Lisa-Marie Haygood, on Saturday, January 28, 2017, was in accordance with the Georgia PTA’s Board of Directors’ interpretation of its Bylaws and Policies and Procedures."

Well, the National PTA seems to disagree, and Georgia PTA seems either unable or unwilling to defend its process. I contacted National PTA about the probation and spokeswoman Heidi May Wilson said, "National PTA does not provide public statements about its internal PTA matters. "

In his response to my request for comment, Barr said in a statement, "I am very pleased to address that Georgia PTA has willfully responded to the requirements and will continue to faithfully cooperate with National PTA and our membership to ensure that Georgia PTA meets and exceed any non-compliance issues and further protect our association's rights; reputation and membership; and fully support our children in Georgia."

National PTA spokeswoman Heidi May Wilson told me,  "National PTA does not provide public statements about its internal PTA matters. "

At this rate, all that will be left of Georgia PTA will be a compromised board and a depleted membership.

Here is a letter sent this week to the Georgia PTA by the National PTA.

Georgia PTA Board of Directors, Tyler Barr, President

Dear Georgia PTA:

Thank you for your response of March 17, 2017. Georgia PTA remains out of compliance with the National PTA Standards of Affiliation (SOA) policy as first noted in our noncompliance letter of February 17 2017, and again noted in our letter of March 2, 2017.

As stated in the February 17, 2017 letter, Georgia PTA’s noncompliance status is deemed “knowingly and willfully” as per the Standards of Affiliation Policy Procedures Regarding State Constituent Associations in NonCompliance with the SOA, Section 1B. Georgia PTA has not appropriately responded to National PTA’s requests. This letter is official notification that Georgia PTA has now entered the Probation Phase of noncompliance.

Per the SOA Policy, “a state constituent association shall remain on probation until all requirements have been met or for a period not to exceed six months” or September 29, 2017. This Probation Phase is related to the following unresolved portions of the SOA Policy (in bold italics):

Standard 5: “The state constituent association shall adopt, revise, and adhere to bylaws that reflect correctly the current rules and practices of this association.”

  • Georgia PTA has failed document its adherence to the Georgia PTA Bylaws as outlined in our previous letter specifically to Georgia PTA Bylaws, Article X, Section 6, “If a member of the Board of Directors shall at any time cease to meet the qualifications or fulfill the duties of the position as specified in these bylaws and the Georgia PTA Policies and Procedures, that person may be removed from the board by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Board of Directors.”

“The National PTA Board of Directors reserves the right to revoke a state constituent association’s charter, with notice…, if the state constituent association violates the ethics, policies, or principles of PTA or in any way jeopardizes the tax exempt status or endangers the good name/good will of National PTA.”

  • National PTA has ongoing concerns about damage being done to the PTA brand by the Georgia PTA Board of Directors as noted in our letter of March 2, 2017. National PTA continues to receive requests for national intervention from Georgia PTA members who do not feel Georgia PTA is conducting business transparently or in the spirit of member approved bylaws.

What does it mean to be in probation? Per the SOA Policy, the Probation Phase “includes forfeiture of the state constituent association’s rights to the following” (and this loss of benefits is immediate):

  1. “Funding to attend National PTA meetings and events as may be specified in National PTA Bylaws and/or budget.
  2. Eligibility to receive grants or program participation funds from National PTA.
  3. Eligibility to participate in National PTA awards and other programs, including the PTA Reflections program at the national level.
  4. Eligibility to receive National PTA representation at the state constituent association’s annual meeting/convention or other events.
  5. Eligibility to receive benefits of sponsored gifts or rewards and to participate in sponsor/member benefit programs.
  6. Eligibility to receive benefits from any partner-related incentive type of program.” Specifically, over the next few months, Georgia PTA’s representative will lose the benefit of paid travel to the NCAAC meeting and to National PTA Convention. Also, Georgia PTA will not be eligible to receive a National Representative to Georgia PTA’s Convention.

In accordance with the SOA policy, Georgia PTA is assigned a support team to assist Georgia PTA in returning to SOA-compliant status. Wayne Bauman, National PTA Secretary-Treasurer, will chair the support team and he will soon reach out to the Georgia PTA President, Tyler Barr. Other members of the support team, all members of the National PTA Board of Directors, are Donald Dunn, Tina Hartman, and Roxanne Rhinehart, as well as Mary No Neil, National Service Representative. We ask that you communicate directly with the team’s chair and rapidly take action. The support team is charged with collaborating with Georgia PTA to create a plan addressing the issues and concerns noted above and to hold Georgia PTA accountable for achieving milestones and outcomes according the plan and timeline.

Georgia PTA must cooperate with the committee which is charged with:

  • Ensuring the restoration of Shanda Ross to her seat on the Board of Directors without retaliation against Ms. Ross.
  • Reviewing Georgia PTA board-approved minutes—in their entirety—and ensuring those minutes substantiate a 2/3 vote of the Georgia PTA Board of Directors to remove Nicole Ponziani, Lisa-Marie Haygood, and Marina Staples.
  • Ensuring Georgia PTA engages a qualified parliamentarian and follows his/her counsel on the hierarchy of governing documents and overall governance of the association;
  • Analyzing Georgia PTA’s current Policies and Procedure and making recommendations for changes that 1) ensure P&P aligns with bylaws and Georgia nonprofit law, and protects members’ rights, 2) leads to open and transparent governance and, 3) ensures members have a reasonable expectation that the leaders they elect are allowed to serve their full terms.
  • Acquiring a copy of the revised Georgia P&P that demonstrates the hierarchy of governing document.
  • Reviewing Georgia PTA’s last five years of financial reports and ensuring Georgia PTA addresses members’ concerns about the Georgia PTA board’s financial oversight and financial accountability.

What happens if Georgia PTA does not comply with probationary requirements?

Per the SOA Policy: the Probation Phase “Failure to comply with probation requirements by the end of the Probation Phase may result in restructuring of the Congress and/or the revocation of the state constituent association’s charter.”

National PTA is deeply concerned about fractured relationships that are driving units and individuals away from Georgia PTA when engagement is often the best way to address internal state PTA problems. We worry about the long-term consequences of such fractures on the lives of Georgia’s children and the well-being of Georgia’s families. It is our goal to work with you to restore Georgia PTA to good standing and support Georgia PTA in its efforts to heal. Please respond to the support team’s offers of help and take advantage of the resources offered to you. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and thank you for all you do for PTA.

Sincerely, Laura Bay

President, National PTA

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.