Teacher Tips: How to Start a Parent-Teacher Organization

Parent-Teacher Organizations operate independently.

Parents and teachers working together is key to building successful schools where students are equipped to learn and are enthusiastic about academic and extracurricular opportunities. This environment begins with a strong Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO). Unlike Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA), which are associate members of a national organization, PTOs operate independently, usually as non-profit organizations. About 75 percent of U.S. schools have PTOs instead of PTAs. Starting a PTO begins with a group of interested parents presenting their goals and ideas to the principal. Parent involvement at any education level is important to the structure and success of a school.

  • Presentation Software

1 Do some Research

Speak with administrators, teachers, other parents and students to generate good information about the strongest needs and interests among all parties. From that information, determine which events your PTO would like to organize and for which purchases it would be responsible. Some possibilities are team spirit days, teacher appreciation weeks, movie nights, book swaps, school dances, talent shows, after-school workshops and field days. Keep in mind, whatever events you decide upon will be reliant on good fundraising efforts.

2 Involve Parents

Involve parents by scheduling an informational meeting. Invite them to come with ideas. Since schools usually support efforts to establish a PTO, you should not have difficulty scheduling your kick-off meeting on the premises. Notify parents of the meeting through the school website and marquee and by sending flyers home with students. Ask if a member of the administration can announce the meeting via mass e-mail and through an automated calling system, if your school has that service. Typically, PTOs meet monthly at a school.

3 Fundraise

Decide which fundraisers would best help your PTO reach its financial goals and cover expenses. Create a space where every parent feels they have an important role in helping make a fundraiser successful. Hearing fundraising ideas from other parents could benefit you as well.

Product sales, raffles and operating a school store are just a few ways to raise money for school events and teacher resources and school supplies. Talk to PTO members at schools of similar size and demographics to yours and find out which fundraisers have been most successful for them. Use online sources to research and order information about the wide selection of large group fundraisers available. It may also be helpful to establish a bank account exclusively for the PTO. Managing money between parents can become confusing and unwise.

4 Create Policies

Draft bylaws containing a mission statement that clearly summarizes the organization’s goals and motives. The bylaws should also explain the policies on all orders of business, including electing officers, establishing committees and collecting membership dues. Include the organization’s financial goals and provide a list of officers along with a description of their responsibilities. Prior to writing the bylaws, check with the principal to see if there are any school, county or state procedures and policies that must be followed.

These policies could also include the establishment of different parent groups within the PTO, specifically charged with responsibilities pertaining to different areas. These could include groups focused on fundraising, parent organization, a financial committee, community outreach group and more.

5 Create a Budget

Structure a budget that recognizes the cost involved for PTO-sponsored events as well as fundraising projects that will require an initial investment. Remember to include operating expenses such as office supplies, postage and bank fees. Show projected profits from fundraising efforts and member dues.

6 Create a Calendar

Create a calendar of suggested events that covers the entire school year. Consider student testing periods and teacher workdays when determining the best times to avoid events and fundraisers. Maximize profits by coordinating some events with seasons or holidays, such as flower sales near Valentine’s Day. Schedule activities with convenience in mind and all while keeping the best interest of your child’s school in mind as well.

For example, a PTO bake sale could be held the same evening as a choral performance, or a PTO-sponsored book fair might be held the same days as parent-teacher conferences when many parents will be visiting the school.

7 Bonus Tips

Build a good relationship with the principal. When presenting your PTO model, stress partnership between your group and the school administration, ask for input and be open to all suggestions and changes the principal might recommend. Use appropriate software to make a clear, accurate and attractive presentation.

Consider your upcoming projects and events and begin recruiting parent volunteers to head committees and organize activities. Schedule another school-wide meeting for the purpose of electing officers. While those who initiate the formation of a PTO are frequently elected to offices, it is standard procedure to open the floor to nominations and allow a campaign period if more than one person expresses interest in holding a position. Remind nominees that serving on a PTO board is a time-consuming responsibility best executed by those who have experience in the office that interests them.

You should also secure a Tax Identification Number by completing form SS-4 from the IRS as soon as your PTO is approved. This will have an Employer Identification Number. You will need this to file for tax-exempt purposes.

With the proper tax-exempt status, your fundraising events can work best for your community and as your community continues to grow from early childhood programs through middle school, your organization can even become part of the National PTA. Make sure to look first at the National PTA mission statement and make sure the organization makes sense for you to join.

At the end of the day, a PTO should be focused on ensuring student success with the school district and in their particular school they serve. Whether you do that by school fundraising, engaging with school staff, holding an open house to welcome everyone back to school or working in general to improve the school community, the role of a PTO is important.

  • Secure a Tax Identification Number by completing form SS-4 from the IRS as soon as your PTO is approved.

Donna G. Morton lives in Atlanta and has been writing for more than 27 years. She earned a Bachelor of Science in journalism from East Tennessee State University and spent 15 years in radio and corporate advertising, winning 10 Excellence in Advertising Awards for creative writing.