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Which Brooklyn PTAs raised the most money last school year?

Recently released data shows big discrepancies from district to district.

December 10, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Brooklyn’s school districts face a massive discrepancy when it comes to parent-raised funding, data from the Education Department reveals. From districts in Carroll Gardens to Brownsville, the money raised by parent-teacher associations over the course of the 2018-2019 school year ranges from $11.5 million to just $73,000.

There is some form of PTA behind every New York City school. The organizations can be traced back to the late 1800s — and since then, they have focused on increasing parental engagement in their children’s schools and raising funds for students and staff. This money comes from various types of school- and community-based fundraisers, as well as PTA membership fees.

A bill recently passed by the City Council now requires the New York City Department of Education to collect and report on income and spending of city PTAs. Recently released DOE data is the first rollout of such findings.

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According to the new data, there are financial disparities from borough to borough and even district to district, with some PTAs raising more than $1,000 per student and others bringing in just a few bucks per head throughout the school year.

Brooklyn’s District 15, which runs from Carroll Gardens to Sunset Park, including Park Slope Windsor Terrace and pockets of Boerum Hill and Fort Greene, raised the most money during the 2018-2019 school year at nearly $11.5 million, according to the data. That comes out to an estimated $344 per student when compared to district enrollment, according to a breakdown published by Chalkbeat.

On the other end of the spectrum, Brooklyn’s District 23 — which encompasses Ocean Hill, Brownsville and parts of East New York — only raised about $73,000 during the last school year, about $8 per student.

P.S. 748 in Bath Beach and P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens were among those whose PTA’s raised the most. The PTA at P.S. 748 reported raising nearly $5 million, while that at P.S. 58 brought in just over $2 million, according to the data.

Boerum Hill’s P.S. 133 is recorded as raising a whopping $76 million last year, though the school’s PTA co-president Jennifer Skoda told Chalkbeat that there was likely a clerical error in the filing.

Issues with the data extend beyond the Boerum Hill school’s recording. According to Chalkbeat, there are a handful of schools whose numbers appear “to be wildly off-base.” P.S. 147 in Williamsburg, for example, reported raising nearly $6 million last school year — but reported an end-of-year balance of $17,650.11 after spending just $41,000 over the course of the year.

Meanwhile, close to 100 Brooklyn schools either did not disclose any income, or reported $0.

P.S. 159 on the border of Brownsville and Cypress Hills reported raising just $2.

Margin of error aside, one elected official and former educator told the Brooklyn Eagle he finds the report worrisome.

“The depths of inequity in the report are alarming despite the inaccuracies,” said Councilmember Mark Treyger, who previously taught at New Utrecht High School and currently chairs the City Council’s Committee on Education.

“Over 230 schools did not report any data,” Treyger said, noting that those schools are in violation of the chancellor’s regulations. The councilmember, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn, sponsored the bill that now requires the city to aggregate and release PA and PTA fundraising data.

“It remains to be determined whether non-reporting is more representative of willful non-compliance or defunct PTAs/PAs at certain schools,” he told the Eagle. But, even of the schools that did report, over half “reported demonstrably inaccurate data — some readily attributed to clerical errors like misplaced decimals but some more inscrutable inconsistencies.”

Either way, Treyger said, “Transparency is not an opt-in.”

“I’d like to know is who from the Department of Education is reviewing the annual reports due every June, and what their review protocols are,” he said. The DOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

There are multiple factors at play when it comes to how much a PTA brings in when broken down by student, including district overcrowding. For example, a district whose PTAs raise more than $11 million might end up raising less per student than another district that raised just under $7 million — just because that district has fewer students to service.

This is especially clear in Brooklyn, a borough that experiences notorious rates of school overcrowding. According to nonprofit Class Size Matters, classrooms in District 20 — which encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of both Borough Park and Sunset Park — operate at well-above capacity. The district had a utilization rate of more than 121 percent for the 2017-2018 school year, meaning most classrooms were well over their recommended number of students, the nonprofit reported.

According to the PTA data, District 20 PTAs as a whole brought in more than $8 million — but nearly 50,000 students were enrolled in the district during the 2018-2019 school year, according to state Education Department data. As a result, students only end up getting about $150 apiece. Comparatively, Brooklyn’s District 14 had an enrollment of approximately 17,000 students, meaning the roughly $6.6 million raised by its PTAs went a longer way, at an estimated $356 per student.

Our district is a true example of the economic haves and have-nots,” Paullette Ha-Healy, former PTA president of District 20’s P.S. 264 told the Eagle. Of the district’s 42 schools, she said, 36 are Title 1 schools, meaning more than 60 percent of the families who attend that school live below the poverty line. “So if you look at the individual PTAs that generate the most money, it is from schools where the median family household income is in the relative six figures where as the rest of the schools average between $60k to $90k per family household.”

Successful fundraising also depends heavily on engagement on both the parent and the school side, Ha-Healy said.

“It is no secret that active PTAs with high percentage of parent involvement fundraise more than those with little family involvement. Lots of factors go into that, including the kind of administration that is in place in the school, racial demographics and parent input,” she said. “A lot of veteran PTAs have graduated out and are seeing less and less training being provided for incoming PTAs which leaves those coming in with out resources that were previously available.”

While there’s a much larger issue at play, Ha-Healy said, she hopes that the transparency can be twofold.

“We, as parents, would appreciate the same transparency and scrutiny applied to PTA fundraising to be taken to how administrations are utilizing their budgets and why the need for aggressive PTA funding is even necessary,” she said.

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