- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Delegates to the national PTA convention, held last weekend in Baltimore, rejected a proposed $1 dues increase and voted instead for a compromise amendment that raised national member fees by 50 cents.

The dues increase, the second in two years, raises national per-member contributions to $1.75 per year. Last year, at the PTA's convention in Chicago, delegates also rejected a proposed $1 increase and raised fees by 25 cents amid concerns that asking for more money from school parents would drive prospective members away.

About 1,500 delegates representing the 6.5 million PTA members nationwide attended the annual meeting, where they voted, after extended debate, on a new governance structure including a revamping of the group's bylaws. Among the approved changes, geared at giving local members more of a voice at the national level, included creating a 66-member National Council of States to help deliver grass-roots ideas to the national leadership and reducing the PTA's national board of directors from 87 to 28 members.

Two youth members also will be included in the new board structure, as well as a committee that focuses on legislative issues advanced by the PTA.

Headquartered in Chicago, the organization has lobbying offices in Washington.

Facing declining membership over the last couple of decades and criticism over its liberal political agenda and close alignment with the teachers unions, the PTA hopes to recast its public image with a new ad campaign, set to debut July 7.

"We expect to see a membership increase out of the campaign, but it's not the whole point," said outgoing PTA President Ginny Markell. Rather, the organization hopes to better position itself as the nation's top advocacy group for parents and children, she said.

The campaign, with its slogan "every child, one voice," will include a series of national television ads that will run through October on cable television, including such network as Nick at Nite.

Radio ads will be aired on Top 40 stations nationwide, including Disney Radio.

Print ads will be published in such magazines as Family Circle; Rosie, comedian Rosie O'Donnell's new publication; and O, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey's magazine.

Every state will also get its own commercials that contain a tag line with the state name and a state contact number.

"The population we are trying to attract are today's young parents," Mrs. Markell said.

PTOtoday magazine publisher Tim Sullivan, who attended the PTA convention, calls the ads professionally produced and "high-end stuff," that was well-received by the delegates.

His publication supports independent parent organizations called PTOs, which are growing around the nation as a way to keep all funds raised for students in neighborhood schools at the local level, rather than partially going to a national organization.

PTA membership dues differ from state to state, but a portion of the money collected locally goes to support the national organization.

Mr. Sullivan questions the national PTA's spending of millions on advertising.

The three-year campaign will cost the PTA $2.2 million in the first year, Mrs. Markell said.

"With a group that has an annual budget of about $10 million, to me it's a big bet on their future, and there's no guarantee that it's the right bet," Mr. Sullivan said.

Shirley Igo, a longtime PTA leader and grandmother of 11 from Plainview, Texas, was installed as the PTA's new president Tuesday. She, and the PTA's other newly elected officers, will serve through 2003.

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