Marshall PTA needs more volunteers to keep operating

MARSHALL — The Marshall PTA, which raises thousands of dollars annually for school programs and activities, is struggling with the lack of participation and in danger of disolving in the near future, according to its treasurer.

“We typically raise between $20,000 and $30,000 each year to pay for teachers’ supplies, field trips and educational activities for our public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade,” PTA treasurer Nicole Schuler said last week after a PTA meeting. “Almost every single grade level has some kind of field trip that we help fund each year.”

Schuler said the PTA board decided to continue during the meeting, with the hopes of increasing the number of volunteers this year.

“It’s been a couple of years of not having good participation,” she said. “Those that are helping — most of the time, it’s board members — end up getting burned out. At the meeting on Tuesday, it was decided that we would give it another year. So we need to get the information out there that we’re looking for more participation — and anyone is welcome to join.”

In the past, the Marshall PTA has put money toward supplies, such as planners for students at West Side and Marshall Middle School, as well as for field trips, including the kindergarten trip to the Children’s Museum of South Dakota in Brookings and the sixth-grade trip to the Twin Cities.

“The sixth-graders visit the state Capitol, the Minnesota Science Museum and the Minnesota History Museum,” Marshall PTA vice president Abbie Boelter said. “The PTA contributes $1,700 to help with ticket and travel expenses to these locations. The PTA also contributes to the Youth Frontiers ‘Kindness’ and ‘Courage’ retreats that happen each fall for fifth- and seventh-grade students. For eighth grade, the PTA is covering the cost of busing and admission to the Fagen World War II Museum.”

Oftentimes, teachers also seek grants for equipment.

“Nurses get a small amount of funds,” Schuler said. “This year, they got new thermometers at West Side. They’re medical grade thermometers, not just cheap ones from Wal-Mart. Gym teachers can pick out new equipment as well. There are technology requests, too. This year, they requested some technology blocks, where kids can build them and they connect to computers. They look like Legos, but they’re not Legos.”

Schuler said the PTA takes requests from all Marshall Public School sites.

“ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) even gets a small grant,” she said. “And we did donate $1,000 to the (late teacher Cheri) Buysse fund. Part of our grant was to help kick that scholarship off.”

No request is too small for the Marshall PTA to consider, but the requests have to be educational.

“Our organization is a little bit different than others in the amounts that can be requested,” Schuler said. “We can have a teacher come in and ask for $60, as long as what they’re requesting is educational. And we like that it can benefit as many students as possible in the district.”

Applications for grants are typically accepted throughout the year — PTA’s calendar runs from August to July, though there usually isn’t a July meeting scheduled.

“Currently, the way it works is the teachers bring us an application form at one of the meetings,” Schuler said. “Every month, they can apply. This year, we did have to say (the April 2) meeting was the last one for this year. Unused funds have been rolled over in past years, but unfortunately, the roll-over amount has dwindled.”

Schuler pointed out that the grant requests aren’t just approved by the board, but by the members present at the meetings.

“As long as the application says what the funds would be used for and the requests are educationally based, the president — currently Ally DeCamp — reads everything aloud and asks for the group’s consensus,” Schuler said. “So anyone who comes to the meeting can approve or object. It’s part of our system. We talk it over and decide that night.”

Schuler said that once teachers have the approval, they work through the district office.

“I get an invoice from the school for all of those approved,” she said. “Then I write a check back to the school. It’s nice because the school is still seeing all of this and that it’s controlled through the school system.”

Marshall PTA’s major fundraiser — Cherrydale Fundraising — takes place at the beginning of each school year.

“Kids get a magazine and can sell products to other and earn prizes,” Schuler said. “There’s everything from cookie dough, which is the most popular, to soups, wrapping paper and decorative items — the list runs the gamut.”

While K-12 students are the primary recipients of the grants, Schuler said only the kindergarten through middle school students are asked to help with the fundraising.

“We just don’t push the high school to do the fundraiser because their schedules are so busy the way it is,” she said. “In the past, we’ve done a free movie night for the kids (that participate in the fundraiser). Parents get a night out. The FFA kids and one other group help us out with that.”

Schuler said the current PTA members are hoping additional volunteers will pitch in for the fall undertaking.

“We need to get packets to the kids, collect funds and distribute all the products,” she said. “It’s a large money-maker, but because of the process and the limited number of hands we have, there have been some complaints from parents. We’ve tried to address that as best as we can, but we really just need more people on board.”

Family membership is $15 a year, and part of that fee goes to the Minnesota PTA.

“The Minnesota PTA helps us with maintaining a nonprofit status,” Schuler said.

PTA meetings are held on the first Tuesday of the month, beginning at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria at Marshall Middle School.

“In this day and age, we have so much going on and people feel like they’re too overwhelmed to help, but we need people,” Schuler said. “It doesn’t have to be parents. Most of the members right now are teachers. People might not think $20,000 or $30,000 sounds like a lot, but this is an awesome way to get those add-ons that the public school might not otherwise be able to do.”

Marshall PTA is looking for people to step into open positions in the near future. While a new secretary was elected on Tuesday, replacing a member who is moving out of state, Schuler said she would be stepping down as treasurer soon, leaving her position open, as well as that of the yearbook chair and fundraising chair.