A controversy is brewing in Albany about how elementary school Parent Teacher Associations direct the funds they raise. PTA groups at the city's elementary schools bring in funds much like other PTA groups -- through bake sales and movie nights. However, questions have been raised about how some schools are raising funds to add classes while another school, which has less affluent parents, is being left behind.
The PTA groups at Marin and Cornell schools have been raising money for art, music and chess classes while the group at Ocean View elementary has been raising money to provide transportation for field trips. The Albany Unified School District recently weighed in, canceling, then reinstating the programs at Marin and Cornell and forming two task forces to study the issue.
"The main thing that we're looking at is instructional minutes during the day," said Edel Alon, president of the PTA at Ocean View. "What the other schools have done is they've hired professional specialists (to) teach during instructional time. We don't really care if they use the money before school, at lunch or after school. It's when it's touching the curriculum that it isn't fair."
The parent group at Marin Elementary is funding an art teacher for about 10 weeks during the school year, said Marin PTA President Jeannie Paulovich.
The differences within the district aren't as stark as some between poor and wealthy districts elsewhere. Ocean View's PTA
However, the demographics of the families attending Ocean View are slightly different from the rest of the city. The school includes many parents who live in UC Village and are graduate students at UC Berkeley.
"We're looking at a population where 30 percent are socio-economically disadvantaged," Alon said. "(They're) making less than $22,000 a year," a level that would qualify for the school lunch program.
"Whenever you walk throughout the school, every third family that you meet has some kind of hardship," Alon said.
District Superintendent Marla Stephenson said Ocean View's PTA has to pay for things that the other schools take for granted.
"It is very difficult for Ocean View to provide parent drivers for field trips," she said. "Many times they contract with private transportation buses. That's a cost the other two schools don't feel the need to bear."
Cornell PTA President Dorothe Piluso was hopeful that after the initial shock, parents at all schools will work together, especially considering that Albany schools are better off than many in the Bay Area.
"We're a community where the PTAs are raising almost $200,000 a year," she said. "The money is here. Yes, if we can provide them for one child we should provide them for all. I think we all agree on that. The district is sort of letting the parents fight it out and they shouldn't. To me it's really a failure on the district's part to fail to provide enrichment during the curriculum."
Piluso said she's reconsidered her feelings since the issue was raised.
"My personal feeling is we should have a fundraising council that raises the money for curriculum based-enrichment and if you're having three hours of music, everyone gets three hours of music," she said.