Important School Committee Changes: PTO Spending



Important School Committee Changes: PTO Spending
The Ward PTO would like to thank School Committee member, Equity Committee member (and Ward parent) Kathy Shields for presenting to the PTO at the November 5th meeting about the new Equity Guidelines for PTO spending that will take effect in the next (2019/2020) school year. This meeting was open to the entire Ward community, and we thank everyone who attended.
Newton's Equity Policy for PTO spending, put in place over 20 years ago, attempts to ensure that students receive an equitable education regardless of which Newton public elementary school they attend. The guidelines provide 3 main categories of PTO spending:
  • Educational spending (Max $ amount per student): Creative Arts & Sciences, Teacher classroom support, Library, etc...
  • Community spending (no cap):  Building and facilities, community events, grounds and outdoor spaces, etc...
  • Prohibited spending: Staff, textbooks, etc...
Technology Spending has been handled separately. Each year the NPS technology department sends an exemption letter to the PTO's with a list of technology items to purchase in order to meet the NPS Elementary Technology Access Standard. PTOs were then allowed to purchase these items as funds allowed.
The Equity Committee, a sub-committee of the School Committee, passed new Guidelines in June 2018. 
Select changes for next year include:
  • A revised $ amount for the Annual Elementary Equity Cap ("ECap")
  • A new Elementary Technology Spending Cap ("Tech Cap").
There was a vibrant discussion at the Nov 5th Ward PTO meeting on whether the PTO spend data provided the visibility into equitable experiences across the district given the inherent differences between the 15 elementary schools. A big focus of the discussion was how do you compare the newly renovated/rebuilt schools to Ward and other older schools.  
The ECap for this current school year (2018/2019) is $111 per pupil. The Ward PTO is spending up to its equity cap on the following: Creative Arts and Sciences ($16,000), classroom setup ($6,000), principal discretionary fund ($3,500), library ($2,500), and teacher workshops and curriculum enrichment ($2,500).
Technology is managed (but minimally funded) by the district based on NPS' Elementary Technology Access Standard.  Each year an assessment is performed to determine if Ward does or does not meet this established benchmark. The Ward PTO has spent a highly variable amount from year to year depending on the technology deficit outlined in the report and the ability of the PTO to raise the necessary funds. This school year the budget is to spend $26,500 to bring us up to the Standard. (~$85/student)
Starting in the 2019/2020 school year, the ECap has been revised by the School Committee based on an analysis showing that the spending by PTOs varied widely. The intention of the lower revised cap is so all Newton PTOs can fund and preserve equitable access to enrichment opportunities. The revised ECap is $80 per pupil, and the Tech Cap is $15 per pupil.
  • Under next year's new Tech Cap, Ward's technology spend would be capped at ~$4,500; a significant reduction in what we have spent in previous years.  
  • Ward parents attending the November 5th meeting expressed concern that the School Committee capped what the Ward PTO can spend on technology without providing an alternative to fund the gap to NPS Standard.
  • There was concern by attendees that quality and quantity of CASC presentations will decrease. That is, that we will be unable to bring in as many programs targeted at MCAS standards.
  • Some parents felt there wasn't sufficient opportunity to comment before these changes were adopted in May by the School Committee.
Also new for 2019/20 is "pooling" of PTO funds across Newton for Creative Arts and Sciences. Under this potential change, put forth by the equity working group, any funds raised from Ward School parents for the Creative Arts and Sciences curriculum would be sent to a general city-wide fund and then allocated to each elementary school on a pro-rata basis based on school size. While details remain to be worked out, the School Committee is aiming to start this in the next school year for a 2-year pilot program. Additionally, the School Committee is exploring pooling all PTO funds for educational spending in the future.
Many Ward parents attending the November 5th meeting expressed concern that the pooling of funds across all PTOs would hamper the Ward PTO's ability to fundraise and control our own PTO budget.
Some parents supported the idea of helping schools with smaller PTO budgets, but mentioned that it should be optional, or a separate donation. Questions were raised about whether the Newton Schools Foundation could be a resource.  
The Ward PTO would like your feedback on both the spending caps (ECap and Tech Cap) and the potential pooling of Creative Arts and Sciences funds so that we may share it with the School Committee.  Please email with your thoughts and feedback on these changes (preferably before the Thanksgiving break).