Gwinnett Schools to Georgia PTA leaders: No confidence in you. No money from us.

One of the promo pitches to get parents to join the Georgia PTA. That may be a harder sell in the wake of the group’s internal battling. (Georgia PTA)

The Gwinnett County Public Schools is lending its clout as the state’s largest system to the growing demand for reform of the leadership of Georgia PTA. The National PTA sent a letter a few days ago sharing its dismay over the board’s antics and warning the attorney general could be involved if allegations of election misdeeds prove true.

Thus far, the controlling faction of the Georgia PTA that staged a coup in January and wrested control, expelling the president and anyone who supported her, has ignored the escalating outrage. Its recent actions on elections — locking out anyone who planned to run from the floor at this weekend’s annual convention through a procedural maneuver — provoked the National PTA president to state:

Indeed, National PTA fears the elections will further damage PTA’s name and be repudiated by Georgia PTA members. Any appearance of stifling a Georgia PTA member’s ability to run for officer positions or any perception of a closed or rigged process will further harm PTA at all levels. This is the time for flexibility, transparency, and member-responsiveness by the Georgia PTA board. National PTA strongly encourages Georgia PTA to identify ways to open the election process.

If Georgia PTA disregards our strong recommendation, National PTA expects disarray and parliamentary challenges at your CLT, legal ramifications, and the involvement of the Georgia Attorney General.

But the threat of Gwinnett schools, long a PTA stalwart, leaving the organization would just about spell the end of Georgia PTA as we know it.

In a letter, Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks wrote, “We have no confidence in the current board and officers of Georgia PTA.” Wilbanks notes PTA state leaders overseeing the Gwinnett area “are being investigated for possible misuse of PTA funds.”

As a result, Wilbanks has asked local units to withhold any funds that usually go to the state PTA  “until we feel the grave matters before us have been satisfactorily addressed.”

I also heard tonight from Taliaferro Superintendent Allen Fort. He said his district “is also going to withhold funds to the state PTA until they get their house in order. It is very sad that the Georgia PTA, once a very respected and viable partner of education in our state, has fallen into such disarray.”

Here is what Gwinnett sent to Georgia PTA President Tyler Barr:

Reader Comments 0

33 comments
detalo
detalo

just as Jennifer implied I'm shocked that a mother can earn $5888 in 1 month on the computer 

. read review.............  www.decksky.com

Amber Cronan Wickham
Amber Cronan Wickham

Will this affect Gwinnett students' participation in the PTA-sponsored Reflections contest?

Jack Lynch
Jack Lynch

Maybe the PTA president should return phone calls.

Diane Jacobi
Diane Jacobi

There are still almost a quarter of a million PTA members across the state volunteering and working on behalf of the children. Local units, councils, and most state districts are focused on the mission of making every child's potential a reality and are just as disappointed and saddened by the self-serving actions and focus of the current group.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Then they should transition to PTOs and starve the State PTA.

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

Maybe now School Councils might get the respect the law intended. If the lawfully mandated parent and teacher entity is still Georgia law.

Marina Staples
Marina Staples

It is a privilege to be a resident/parent in Gwinnett County. And a great honor to be a PTA leader that is supported by our Superintendent!

Tom Green
Tom Green

Gwinnett Schools will be happier not sending the majority of membership donations out of their system.

Susan Culbreth
Susan Culbreth

So sad that a great organization has come to this. All over a power play at the state level!

Kim Broadbooks Wilson
Kim Broadbooks Wilson

Patty McSweeney Yohn I will be making donations directly to the school. I hate for local PTA to be penalized but that's the way it is. I have no confidence in PTA right now.

Lisa Dahl Dwyer
Lisa Dahl Dwyer

Donations to the local unit don't go at all to GA pta. They only get a cut if you become a member.

altAJC2
altAJC2

The National PTA is more about supporting the teachers unions and their liberal agenda. Not about kids.

Gwinnett parents should be forming PTOs instead.

Renee Lord
Renee Lord

Sometimes leaders forget they are accountable to those who have granted them their positions.

PattyYohn
PattyYohn

I suspect they will ... stayed tuned.


Astropig
Astropig

Gwinnett is probably doing the only thing here that will make a difference.Bully for them. I hope it works. But...


I'm still having trouble understanding why the "who,what,where,why" aspect of this story is missing the "who" part. Can someone 'splain why the evil cabal at the top never get called out by name here? 


Yes, I know that I could look it up on Al Gore's amazing internet,but that's not the point.The point is that the ringleaders here should be treated like everybody else that do dastardly things.And that means a little sunlight on who they are.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Astropig There appears to be a charismatic longtime leader who, for reasons unclear to me, holds sway over the entire board now. Here is what the AJC reported: (This is a small part of a very long story that ran.)

So what happened? 

How did a group of volunteers become so inflamed that they were moved to purge fellow volunteers from a group that aims to be a "powerful voice for children?"

Many of those interviewed said race became a dividing line, even for people of the same color.

"They're trying to make the board as black as possible. That's been the goal for a very long time, " said Kiddada Asmara Grey, of Cobb County. "I'm black and I don't get it."

Grey said she was removed from the board after she disagreed about a policy change advocated by Rita Erves, who is black and a former president.

Erves had the support of a black faction of the board, Grey said, adding, "Either you were with the black people or you were with the white people." Grey said the formal reason for her removal was missing meetings. She said she was volunteering with the PTA while also raising children and attending graduate school.

Though there appears to be a long history, the most recent chapter began in 2015, when hundreds of members from schools across Georgia convened to elect new state PTA leaders. More ballots were cast than the number of voters attending, said several former board members. This led them to suspect the integrity of the election.

A video recording of the vote count supplied by a source shows that there were 313 possible votes in the elections of each of five officers. Yet more votes were counted in four of the races, including as many as 325 for President-elect Barr.

"They played with the ballots, and that was obvious,” said Marina Staples, who was removed from the board last summer because, she said, she was openly critical of Erves. Staples ran for one of the two vice president seats and won. She feels her victory was legitimate but questions other race results. There was a request for a recount, but the board declined, opting instead to destroy the ballots, she said.

Cheryl White, who was a vice president, was on the ballot for president-elect, a board position that winners hold for two years before they segue to the two-year presidency. She lost to Barr. Like Staples, White was suspicious about the outcome because of vote mismatches. "We all were like, wait a minute, the numbers aren't adding up. What's going on?" she said.

White, who is African-American, also said Erves used race to divide and control the board. It was, she said,  "team Rita versus team white."

Barr said the board remains diverse, though he could not provide details. As for the election, he recalls a chaotic day, and said he doesn't remember everything. But he said he believes his particular race was fair, with an accurate vote count. "I don't recall a mismatch in my numbers, " he said.

The video shows he received 251 votes, which made him a clear winner.But the total votes for both candidates for president-elect was 325, which is 12 more votes than there were ballots. The video also shows he made a speech on the floor after the count was announced and after a member complained about the vote total. He urged members to effectively move on, saying, "respect the election process" and to "get back to the business of our children."

Erves did not respond to requests for comment that Barr said he relayed to her. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also sent a query to what appeared to be her official Georgia PTA email address and left a voicemail on a number linked to her.

Barr wrote that the board was unaware of allegations that Erves used race to sow dissension and manipulate members. The board "does not believe these allegations have any merit, " he wrote.

Several interviewed said Erves had mastered the PTA's arcane bylaws, policies and procedures, and outmaneuvered opponents to solidify power.

One recent change seemed aimed at undermining the influence of the local PTAs with the biggest and most engaged membership, said Vickie Riccardo, who as co-president of the north Fulton County Council of PTAs is a liaison to the state PTA. She said the board changed the rules to reduce the number of leaders at the local level.

Riccardo said PTA units in North Georgia -- an area where whites are a majority -- were the most affected, and the rule change could diminish that area's clout by discouraging involvement and depressing membership. "We have too much power in voting, " she said.

Barr said he hadn't heard about Riccardo's complaint. During his one interview, he referred questions about expenditures to his prior written statements.

He wrote that independent audits of the organization's books came back clean and that no PTA credit cards were known to have been used for personal expenses. He said a fraud specialist had identified nine cases of theft or misappropriation, but only at local PTAs. The organization's district leaders forwarded the concerns to the state level where, he said, they were investigated and, when warranted, reported to police.

But one former board member, Shanda Ross, said a case she is familiar with got reported despite the state board.

Ross said she brought a Clayton County case to police, with the help of the since-removed PTA fraud specialist, a volunteer named Nicole Ponziani. Ross said their investigation proceeded despite pressure from Erves, who Ross said retained informal control of the board after her term as president ended in 2015.

"Her feedback to me was I was jeopardizing the organization by going to the authorities, " said Ross, who was the district PTA leader over Clayton. "I got the sense that she was trying to stop everything."

Ross said parents at a second school also came to her with questions about money, but she won't be able to do more investigations. Ross, who is black, said she got on the wrong side of Erves, who she said called her an "Uncle Tom, " an insult for African-Americans.Ross said she got an email from the PTA the day before Haygood's removal: It told her that she was also being removed from the state board.

That same day, Ponziani, whom the board had previously tried and failed to remove, resigned. Reached by phone, she had no comment. But she provided a copy of the resignation letter she sent to Haygood the day before Haygood was removed. It said she identified and reported over $70,000 worth of asset misappropriations "throughout the Georgia PTA footprint" but had decided to quit "due to the ongoing alleged retaliation for my fraud work, including harassment and personal attacks."

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney


"There appears to be a charismatic longtime leader who, for reasons unclear to me, holds sway over the entire board now. "


So this Svengali is Tyler Barr? 

PattyYohn
PattyYohn

@Astropig no, the puppeteer behind this mess is past president Rita Erves. Tyler Barr just doesn't seem to have a backbone and allows the chaos to continue.  


Astropig
Astropig

@PattyYohn @Astropig


Muchas Gracias.Not everybody is versed on the "inside baseball" political machinations of this group.


Starve the beast.Stop sending money and succor and they'll go away.


DisenchantedVoter
DisenchantedVoter

I've been told that the Ga PTA has an ongoing endowment or trust, enabling the group to survive independently of membership dollars from PTA parents like me. Very frustrating that we can't force change by starving them.

I'm pleased to see this letter from Gwinnett and hope other districts follow suit. Hopefully public shaming and action by the National PTA will force change.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@PattyYohn @Astropig When Rita Erves was president, I saw her speak at two big GA PTA events.  She could not put two sentences together. She was an embarrassment to the organization. But even though she lacks the ability to give a speech, she certainly has mastered the art of persuasion.  The GA PTA has one of the largest member numbers in the nation.  A few more systems step on board with Gwinnett and we should see the National PTA come right in and clean this up.  There is a lot of money at risk here.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Cut off their dues cashflow and force them to spend their fund.