PTA raises $$$, but state PTA prefers lobbying
EDUCATION Parents flag unchecked PTAs Parents are calling for better checks and balances of PTA organizations after a PTA treasurer was charged with grand theft.
BY NATALIE P. McNEAL
At first, the acts seemed forgivable. PTA treasurer Cheryl Velazquez's home
printer didn't work, so she couldn't give account balances to members.
Then, the checks didn't post to the PTA account because the bank's clearinghouse
was malfunctioning, she told board members.
But soon board members realized something more sinister could be involved, and
last month police charged Velazquez with second-degree felony grand theft for
allegedly stealing $25,000 from the Lakeside Elementary PTA in Pembroke Pines.
Lakeside's PTA -- with an annual budget last year of $170,000 -- is one of the
richest in Broward County. But it's not unusual for PTA budgets to climb to six
figures in South Florida.
The PTA organizations -- 170 in Broward and 275 in Miami-Dade -- raise tens of
thousands of dollars selling wrapping paper, school supplies and running
And schools, which face more funding challenges every year, now rely on PTAs for
some of their basic expenses that in previous years would have been paid for by
the school district: playground equipment, classroom supplies, school books and
teacher aide salaries.
The groups are often run by volunteers with minimal experience handling big
budgets and by volunteers who don't get training offered by the county and state
Over the past five years, embezzlement claims against PTAs have surpassed
liability claims (such as might occur in the event of an injury at a
PTA-sponsored fundraiser, like a carnival), according to Association Insurance
Management, which handles insurance for 9,000 PTAs in the nation.
Chad Joyce, a client-relations manager for the insurance company, said he used
to see one embezzlement claim for every 10 liability claims. But now,
embezzlement claims outpace liability claims by more than 2-1.
''I think it's a lack of education and a trust factor causing the
embezzlements,'' Joyce said. ``The president this year and the treasurer may
have been lifelong friends and live next door to each other. A lot of PTAs don't
feel like it's needed to put internal controls in place.''
And parents want more checks and balances.
Diane Parker, a former Lakeside Elementary PTA president who reported Velazquez
to the Pembroke Pines police, said there should be more -- or better --
oversight from the PTA's county and state councils.
''I don't think this is as isolated as we would like to think,'' she said.
Rosemary Fuller, who has worked with Miami-Dade PTAs for years as a PTA parent
and as a school principal at Perrine Elementary in South Miami-Dade, said there
is little accountability for the cash that PTAs handle.
''There's a lot of room for misappropriations,'' said Fuller, who is retired.
``And I don't think the county council has any bite.''
In Miami-Dade, the organization's countywide president said individual oversight
would be impossible, given the county's nurmerous PTAs.
''We assist and we advise, but we do not have an enforcement ability,'' said
Ivelisse Castro, president of the Dade County Council PTA/PTSA.
PTAs operate as their own nonprofits run by volunteers who don't report to the
school district. Nor are they forced to adhere to national PTA guidelines when
it comes to finances.
''We like to believe that people are working in the best interest of children,''
said Nancy Cox, president of Florida's PTA. ``We don't want to believe that
people are intentionally taking money. But occasionally, it does happen.''
In Florida, an annual audit, conducted by PTA members or a professional, is
suggested by June 30. The audits do not have to be reported to the county or
''If they don't do the audit, then the membership needs to ask why not,'' said
Latha Krishnaiyer, a past Florida and Broward Council PTA president. ``The
members of the PTA are the ones who wield the power, not necessarily us.''
A financial review of the Pembroke Pines' Silver Palms Elementary's PTA books is
under way after yearbooks handled by the school's PTA weren't delivered by the
''It's completely unacceptable that we don't have them, we prepaid,'' said Holly
Greger, whose daughter attended Silver Palms last year. ``It's too easy to pass
the buck and blame the PTA because they are not employees. It's surprising that
they would have access to money and no oversight by the schools.''
No evidence has cropped up so far of criminal wrongdoing, but the PTA's
bookkeeping ''was a mess,'' said Heather Bryan, the new Silver Palms Elementary
In Broward, elementary PTAs are most robust in middle-class neighborhoods, with
the organization handling everything from teacher appreciation breakfasts to
taking photos for and developing the yearbooks.
The PTA for Park Trails Elementary in Parkland, one of the county's toniest
towns, raised $301,705, according to its 2005 tax filings. Brenda Cepeda's PTSA
at Silver Lakes Elementary in Miramar raised $118,000 last year for reading and
math programs, teacher breakfasts and academic awards.
The PTSA handled the school yearbook and sent its officers to get leadership
The school, in a middle of a planned development where homes cost $500,000,
bought six picnic tables -- one handicapped accessible -- last year for outdoor
dining. They also bought 40 choir vests.
Cepeda, a full-time mom who volunteers for the PTA five days a week, says her
PTSA hires a professional accountant to file its nonprofit paperwork.
But PTA county and state officials scoff at the large sums raised.
The focus should be on lobbying politicians to do more for schools -- not
putting pressure on the backs of parents to purchase essentials for their kids,
said Cox, president of Florida's PTA.
''Is it fair for the children who live in affluent areas to have more than the
children who live in poorer areas and whose parents can't afford for their
children to have extra books, computers or shaded play areas?'' Cox said.
Jayne Hafer, a mother of four, has been a member or leader of a Deerfield Beach
PTA for 20 years. Deerfield Elementary and Middle schools are both Title 1
schools, a federal term for schools with large numbers of economically
While the budgets may be smaller -- $55,474 for the elementary in a 2005 tax
filing -- the schools in Deerfield Beach still manage to host speakers for
parents and teachers about Internet safety, drug abuse, immunization needs and
''It's not just about the money,'' Hafer said.