Strikes and PTA

on-strike-signWhile K-12 education has been funded by the state throughout the ongoing budget crisis, uncertainty over future funding levels and potential changes to the school funding formula have made it difficult for school districts to plan their future spending. This uncertainty has made negotiating new contracts more difficult for districts. As a result, unions are using their legal option of voting to authorize a strike to pressure their district to come to agreement on a contract. The most recent example of this is the strike authorization by the teachers’ union for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Strikes or the threat of a strike place PTAs in awkward situations. PTAs usually have good working relationships with both school administrators and teachers, and both sides in the negotiations may want to use the PTA to get information out to families and the public. Here are some tips on how PTAs can navigate the tricky waters of dealing with a strike or strike threat.

Illinois PTA Positions

The Illinois PTA Legislative Platform, which states Illinois PTA positions as adopted by its members at the Illinois PTA Convention, has two sections relevant to strikes:

  • We believe that during work stoppage or strikes by educational personnel, the PTA should act as a source of information, maintain its position as advocates for children, and urge educational personnel to return to their work assignments while continuing negotiations.
  • During any negotiation process we urge teachers to refrain from attempting to influence the thinking of students by discussing pending or resolved issues unless appropriate to the subject area being taught.

Note that during a strike, a PTA should stay true to its mission and purposes of being an advocate for children and a source of information. PTA’s should not take sides in negotiations, nor should they provide information biased towards or against one of the negotiating parties.

Illinois PTA recommends that all members of your PTA—especially the officers and board members—as well as school administrators, teachers, all other school staff, bargaining agents, district superintendents, local school board members, and elected officials are made aware of the official Illinois PTA positions listed above. This can be done through PTA newsletters, e-mail blasts, meetings with appropriate groups, letters to the school board, general media press releases, and letters to the editor.

What to Do If Contacted by the Media

Only the PTA president or others authorized by your PTA should speak officially for your PTA. Make sure that your members, officers, and board members are aware of this and have them refer media requests to the PTA president or other designated person.

In general, when being interviewed by the media, a reporter may interview you for 10 or 15 minutes, but only a few seconds of that interview may end up being used on TV or radio or only a sentence or two quoted in a newspaper article. Consequently, it is important to have your most important points—that PTA is neutral in the negotiations and that we are focused on the children being affected—at the front of your mind, and you will want to bring every question back around to these points. By doing that, any small quote or clip of an interview will include PTA’s position.

Avoid speaking “off the cuff” with a reporter. If you are caught unprepared, tell the reporter that this is not a convenient time to talk, ask when their deadline is, and return the call once you have collected your thoughts and are prepared to speak to them. Remember to keep your personal opinions out of the discussion when speaking for the PTA.

Your PTA president or other designated speaker should also be familiar with any activities or events your PTA plans to provide in the case of a strike. Your PTA may want to prepare a fact sheet with this information as well.

Reporters may also ask to identify parents they can interview. Illinois PTA recommends that your PTA either recommend only knowledgeable PTA members who are familiar with the PTA positions or adopt a policy of making no referrals. Reporters are often looking for emotional or inflammatory statements, so it is to the PTA’s benefit to ensure that only those who understand the PTA positions, have a positive attitude, speak without taking sides, and always advocate for the children are the ones speaking with reporters.

Remember that there will eventually be a settlement, and by not having taken a side, PTA will be able to work with both the administration and the union to help bring the two sides back together to work for the best education for all children.

Hosting a Meeting Concerning a Strike

Your PTA may wish to host a meeting on the issue of an upcoming or ongoing strike. If so, keep the following points in mind:

  • The meeting should provide information on all aspects of the strike.
  • The meeting is a PTA meeting and not a venue for any vested group. Provide ample question and answer time and invite presenters who are well-informed on the issues.
  • The school board and bargaining unit, if included in the meeting, should be given equal time to present their positions.
  • Provide the audience with copies of the Illinois PTA positions regarding strikes and what actions your PTA will be taking.

PTA Do’s and Don’ts During a Strike

Clearly establish what your PTA will and will not do during the strike. Share that information with your membership, the parties involved in negotiations, the media, and the public. Here are the basics:

  • The PTA does not staff classrooms during a strike.
  • The PTA does not march in picket lines.
  • The PTA does not serve refreshments to strikers or others involved in the strike.
  • The PTA does not “take sides” during the strike.
  • The PTA will not distribute literature from either side. Any information distributed by the PTA should present information on the positions of both sides.
  • PTA members may act as volunteers at locations set up to accommodate students who might otherwise be unsupervised to assist staff and students at these locations.
  • The PTA may request that teachers prepare an outline of home study for students and ensure that all textbooks are taken home if and when necessary.
  • The PTA may share information on childcare alternatives and other activities available in the community for students.
  • The PTA will continue to advocate for adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for schools as well as the other legislative positions supported by the Illinois PTA in our Legislative Platform.

Resources for PTAs Regarding Strikes

Here are some resources for PTAs to help with strikes in general.

Specific Information on the CPS Strike

On Tuesday, October 4, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced their contingency plans in case a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) begins on October 11th. The plans include having all schools open during their regular bell schedules and providing a free breakfast and lunch to students who need them. All classes and extracurricular activities, however will be cancelled. Below are the resources on these plans that the Illinois PTA has available at this time.

Graphic © 2009 by Agnes Perlapse, modified under Creative Commons license.

Illinois PTA Launches PTA Essentials Video Series

illinoispta-logoIllinois PTA offers free training, both in person and online, but realizes that not everyone’s schedule aligns with training opportunities. Today, Illinois PTA launches its PTA Essentials video series with two financial help videos on its YouTube channel:

PTA Essentials is a series of short videos that provide critical information on running a PTA. They are not intended to replace the Illinois PTA’s PTA University training courses. These videos offer a quick refresher for those who have already taken training and cover the basics for those who may be just starting a position and haven’t had the opportunity to take training yet.

The first two videos focus on key financial issues for PTAs. Failing to complete an audit, mishandling PTA funds, and not using deposit and expense vouchers are three of the most common ways PTAs run into financial problems. Future videos in the series will cover topics such as:

  • Running a PTA Meeting
  • How to Update Your PTA’s Bylaws
  • Maintaining Good Standing
  • Creating and Using Procedure Books

Click the subscribe button on any video to ensure that you don’t miss these future videos from Illinois PTA.

In addition to the PTA Essentials video series, the Illinois PTA YouTube channel has a recording of the first 2016 Illinois PTA Advocacy Day webinar on Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities for those who were unable to attend. Illinois PTA has also fixed an error in the sign-up form for the webinar series, so if you were unable to sign up to attend the Legislative Priorities webinar or want to sign up for these future webinars:

  • How to Meet with Legislators (October 13, 7:30pm)
  • Advocate the PTA Way (October 27, 7:30pm)
  • Hot Topics Briefing (November 10, 7:30pm)

head over to the revised sign-up form now.

Turn Your PTA into a Social Media Powerhouse

aa9076cd-banner2-300dpi_0qo0ae0qo0ae000000Social media is the place for PTAs and other organizations to engage their members. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or some other platform, social media lets PTAs keep their members informed about events, share information, and connect in ways that printed newsletters in backpacks never could. Now, Skills Platform and several nonprofit social media experts have collaborated to create The Charity Social Media Toolkit.

The toolkit is a free online resource to provide not just the fundamentals and tactics for social media use but also inspirational case studies from across the nonprofit sector. The toolkit will help your PTA develop a social media strategy, determine what platforms to use, and leverage those tools to benefit your PTA. Chapters include:

Each section or chapter concludes with three top tips and three links to further reading on the subject. Check out the full toolkit and turn your PTA into a social media powerhouse.

New PTA Election Guides Help PTA’s One Voice Be Heard—Add Yours

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2Election Day is November 8th, and given the state’s budget crisis, your school district may have a referendum on the ballot. Your PTA may also want to ask candidates about their positions on education or other issues affecting children. Illinois PTA has covered the do’s and don’ts of elections for PTAs, and now National PTA has teamed with Nonprofit VOTE to create election guides and other materials to help PTAs navigate the legal ins and outs of nonprofit election laws.

These new resources include a timeline to help your PTA organize itself for its election-related community engagement activities, as well as:

Nonprofit VOTE has also created a series of webinars and a wealth of election-related resources to help explain the details of nonprofit election activities.

For over a century, PTA advocates have changed the world for children, from child labor laws, to the juvenile justice system, the school lunch program, and more. Add your voice to those who have raised theirs before. Advocate for local issues with your PTA, join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues, and plan to attend Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.