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PTA—Please Take A-breath

Calmer heads need to prevail in the mess surrounding Wilton's Miller Driscoll PTA.

I never thought I’d quote a Mafia Godfather in talking about the Wilton PTA, but here goes:

“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.”

Trust me, I appreciate the irony of quoting a movie mobster in relation to the now beleaguered Miller Driscoll PTA, especially given how some residents (and a few Patch readers) have characterized the group’s leaders. The PTA is just like the Mob:  insular, secretive—dangerous perhaps—they’ve even knocked off those that don’t hew to the rules of the ‘family.’

Please.

This is the PTA, folks. It’s not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s not the Federal government shutting down because Congressional Democrats and Republicans can’t agree. It doesn’t even approach the seriousness of how much a budget increase Wilton’s Board of Education is asking for this year.

What it boils down to is a procedure-related squabble that got terribly out of hand. Egos (some say of those hungry for power) got in the way of settling disputes. Insults were thrown, reputations got trashed, and bridges were burned. Suddenly the community now finds itself at the center of a never-ending, outsized tempest.

The line from the “Godfather:  Part III” really referrs to the dust storm that keeps a blowin’. I hadn’t planned on writing today’s “Driver’s Seat” about the PTA again. I was hoping the dust was actually settling down from a meeting that took place a little over a month ago, one that saw the ouster of two members of the Miller Driscoll PTA executive committee, and that set off the current dust-up.

My urged everyone to look forward, take steps to repair the damage that had been caused, and move forward with the sole goal of supporting the PTA’s mission:  enriching the educational and extracurricular activities of the Miller Driscoll students. I hoped that along the way we would keep in mind that those involved in the larger group were hard-working volunteers and their dedication to the students and the school community was what deserved recognition, and that the students were paramount.

Over the last month, readers have burned up about that PTA meeting. Most recently critical, inflammatory and accusatory comments appeared on a that was intended to be a thank-you note to the hundreds of Winter Carnival volunteers who made sure the fundraising event went off without a hitch.

All told, there have been more than 200 comments on Patch about the PTA strife. Critics—some of whom, it seems, don’t even have children at the school—call for everything from specific PTA volunteers to withdraw from the council, to town police attending the meeting to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand, to ceasing all PTA activities for the rest of the year.

People are upset—understandably—that monthly PTA meetings are only held during the mornings, preventing working parents from attending regularly.

Some others are mad that there’s a proposed slate of candidates put forth as nominees to replace the vacated positions for the remainder of the school year. Unfortunately, folks, that’s the way many groups and organizations are run; when they’re lucky to get a volunteer who’s willing to serve in an often thankless capacity like PTA president, a nominating committee is grateful. In any other year, no one would bat an eyelid.

I admit, I chuckled a bit at comments that complained about the nominees for PTA executive committee running unopposed. Just a few months ago, I ran a —with candidates for all boards and positions put forth as nominated by the RTC or the DTC, and without opposition.

Sadly, where attention should count the most—in looking at the government that runs our town—only 15 comments were registered:  two from me, one from the Wilton Patch editor, and three from the RTC chair, among just a few others.

But for the PTA contretemps, there were 200-plus comments and counting. And Oh the Outrage!

The one recent comment about the PTA I found most sad suggested the PTA be ‘banned’ outright, charging that the PTA-run programs are hardly substantive and are superfluous. The author wrote that teachers and school administrators would do a better job without the PTA.

The comment has since disappeared, but it revealed an ignorance about the kind of contribution the hundreds of parent PTA volunteers make to the schools—to the students and the teachers. Without the PTA, there’d actually be a significant drain on administrators and teachers, and the students’ educational experience would suffer greatly.

The PTA organizes programs like Women in History and Visiting Author; PTA volunteers tend year-round to the amazing courtyard garden that is the Outdoor Learning Center; PTA parents staff the library for clerical duties to free up librarians to teach young readers; the PTA ensures kindergarteners learn to ride the bus safely during the first week of school; the PTA compiles the parent handbook—a herculean task each year; the PTA sends off ‘graduating’ second graders with a memorable picnic; the book fair is a crucial part of school life, thanks to the PTA; and, perhaps most importantly, the PTA is responsible for raising significant funds, helping the schools purchase technology that falls outside of yearly budgeting, and assists the teachers with learning opportunities and purchasing much needed materials for their classrooms.

I’m sure I’m missing even more examples, but you get the point. The continued complaining, plus the specific mis-aimed barbs just called into question the dedicated volunteers who commit a great deal of time to helping out the elementary school community significantly during the year.

The three women who have been nominated to run the Miller Driscoll PTA for the remainder of the year are all hard-working, stand-up people. I know all three and they’re going to do a great job moving the PTA forward. They shouldn’t have a target on their backs, although I know it’s how they feel.

The squabbling, criticizing and name-calling should end. And we need to keep perspective about where the energy is being focused, rather than continuing to stymie the volunteers who keep helping, the kids who keep learning, and the women who stepped up to serve when they were asked.

Because when they were asked, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Mary Pat S. March 19, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Heather the issue is not does the PTA do good works at the various schools. Parents of course want a great learning program for our kids with all kinds of special events to broaden the experience. The issue in my mind is can a High School PTA person legitimately go to another Wilton School (with I guess representatives of some state PTA hierarchy (?)) and tell them what to do as well as have the power to throw out an elected officer? Doesn't the Miller PTA run the Miller PTA ??? How about you do a story on that and present us with the facts of what really happened. Nobody from anywhere else with the exception of Dr Richards should have their hands in Miller Driscoll business than the Miller Driscoll community. Craig / Heather - are you up to the challenge so we can put this behind us ?
Heather Borden Herve March 19, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Mary Pat--the parents involved with the Miller Driscoll PTA ALL have children enrolled as students at Miller Driscoll, and as I understand it they are ALL members of the Miller Driscoll PTA. They all had a right to be at the meetings. If you have a child at the school, perhaps you have a school directory--it's possible to confirm just by looking there. I've written two opinion columns on the events at the PTA meeting, suggesting how I felt and offering my thoughts on how repairing the situation and moving forward could be approached. As I wrote in today's column, I think there are more productive places for people to direct their energies. The Miller Driscoll PTA has posted the minutes from the Feb. 13 meeting on their website, www.millerdriscoll.com. What I saw at that 2/13 meeting was not one person flexing her power to unilaterally 'throw out' anyone; what I saw happen at that meeting was a procedural vote.
JRM815 March 19, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Heather, your bias is showing. Yes, the 2/13 meeting had a procedural vote to remove officers. But in your articles you have failed to provide unbiased answers to the following questions: A) Do state PTA representatives usually attend every Miller Driscoll PTA meeting, or only this one? (Or ones since the 2/13 meeting?) B) If the state representatives are not usually present, who invited them for this meeting? C) Was there an announcement to ALL PTA members that there would be a vote to remove officers? D) Who was privy to know this vote was to occur? Were you, Heather? Following Robert's Rules of Order doesn't take away the stink from this whole episode.
Amo Probus March 19, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Was it a bona fide meeting/vote if the Teachers left the PTA meeting? Seems reasonable they should also be permitted to vote...
Mary Pat S. March 20, 2012 at 01:08 AM
All interesting side thoughts but did a high school PTA officer come in and effect an outcome at MB's PTA ?? And Tif does not have a MD official post ... Just at the high school. Why was she leading this charge ?? Why ? Find out Heather and then we can put this behind us. But until then this organization and it's new leaders has no validity. And should stop pretending otherwise. That is my unemotional unbiased point of view.
mb March 20, 2012 at 01:06 PM
The MD administration left the meeting after they learned there would be a vote and before the vote took place. They made the choice to absent from the meeting when the vote occurred. They most certainly were PERMITTED to vote....they chose to not vote. Please read the minutes before spreading false innuendoes.
mb March 20, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Again, please read the minutes before spreading false innuendoes. No one came into the MD PTA meeting who was not a member of the MD PTA.
mb March 20, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Let me correct my own statement. No one came into the MD PTA meeting and "effected the outcome" who was not a member of the MD PTA. (Only members of the PTA have a vote.)
Amo Probus March 20, 2012 at 02:04 PM
One would think the PTA meeting should have been adjourned once the Teachers left in much the same way Wisconsin's state senate could not vote for union reform when most dem members left the state last year. Just common sense and a courtesy that should have been given to the Teachers...no?
mb March 20, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Or common sense and courtesy would be to stay in a meeting once there, participate by placing a vote....either for or against, and not disrupt the meeting by leaving in the middle of it. There was a motion and vote to add the removal of the officers to the agenda. The motion passed. The administration then knew there would be another vote during the meeting on the removal of the officers. Procedures are in place for all to follow and so that all may know the consequences of their actions. We don't get to ignore the rules because situations aren't going as we'd like. Again, please read the minutes.
Frances B. March 20, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Dear mb, Can you help clarify -- do all the attendees listed on the minutes, specifically ones documented as initiating or seconding actions to remove Miller-Driscoll officers have children at Miller-Driscoll? (It would be helpful if the minutes also documented who specifically voted for the removal but that is not indicated) Thanks.
mb March 20, 2012 at 02:43 PM
I do not know if all attendees listed on the minutes have children attending the school. I do know that only members of the MD PTA have a vote. Membership is available to ....any individual who subscribes to the Objects and basic policies of the National PTA. Having children at the school is not a pre-requisite. Example; teachers and administrators.
Amo Probus March 20, 2012 at 03:04 PM
It was a planned coup absent courtesy organized by feeble egos and an insult to other parents, teachers, administrators and the community --- "procedures notwithstanding" you can say all you want but its essence is simply distilled to insulting childish behavior.
Maggie March 20, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Heather and Craig this is your Wilton Watergate moment. Get in there and do your research. A last minute change of an agenda to elect or toss out an officer of any organization is not a normal occurrence. It should have been publicized well in advance so that those wishing to participate or educate themselves BEFORE any action took place. A proverbial cigar smoke filled back room of a High School PTA Exec Committee seems below our town's standards. The MD Administrators saw this farce unfolding and rather than give it any sense of approval or legitimacy - they left in disgust. The meeting should immediately have adjourned. That a few folks were secretly planning to throw out the President and quietly arranged to get a bunch of friends "to show up for this sole purpose" is pretty outrageous from my way of thinking. But do the research and let us know the facts. The BoE should be doing their own investigation and perhaps even the Town's Selectmen. I have no confidence that a legitimate vote took place. Mb seems to think "only MB PTAers voted. I dont believe for s second someone was checking off names and comparing it to some list of members. For her to pretend otherwise is hogwash ! Put on your investigative journalistic hat and find out !!
Maggie March 20, 2012 at 03:43 PM
A coup d'état should not be embraced by this town. A full understanding of what took place must be made public. And as much as some just want this to go away - it won't until the facts are known !
Frances B. March 20, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Thanks mb, Another PTA member did clarify at least 6 attendees listed in the 2/13 minutes do not have children currently at Miller-Driscoll including - the individual who made the motion to add the agenda item to remove M-D officers and the individual who seconded the motion to remove the VP; and all six perhaps voted for the removal of M-D officers. Their names are not listed for the sake of civility - although assume all attendees understand the minutes are a document of public record available to all for fact-checking…. But what was their motivation to attend this specific meeting? My child is in K and it never occurred to me to attend or take action at a PTA meeting at another school (I respect they have a more relevant stake in outcomes that affect their children) http://www.millerdriscoll.com/Home/pta-agendas-and-minutes
Maggie March 20, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Another curiosity is that both Mr & Mrs Tecce attended (with Mrs proposing and 2nding throughout the minutes quite regularly). Do the Tecce's get 2 votes ? Is the family or each parent separately Miller PTA members paying two sets of dues ?? And where does one find a set of the bylaws ? I searched the Miller PTA website and could not find them anywhere. Only a recent amendment about receiving gifts. If the organization is running a fowl of it's rules and governance structure as a recognized 501c3 charitable entity the actions of a few ladies may have jeopardized our standing with the IRS. Potentially invalidating the deductibility of everyone's financial contributions this year and going forward. Governance issues are very important to the IRS and should be equally if not more to us. Craig - another angle on the story for you to work on.
JRM815 March 20, 2012 at 08:48 PM
And yet another curiosity is that the author of this opinion piece advocating that everyone calm down about what happened has admitted to being present at the 2/13 meeting, her name is listed in the minutes as having attended, but her name does not appear in any of the last two years of minutes. Now why attend this particular meeting but no others? I agree with Maggie - as much as some just want this to go away, it won't until the facts are known.
Heather Borden Herve March 20, 2012 at 09:18 PM
JRM: this is the first year I've helped run a program for Miller Driscoll PTA, Women in History. The program is coming up next week so it's timely. I was at this past Monday's meeting as well. As a working parent sometimes it's hard to get to all the meetings; this was also the first year that I didn't have a younger child at home in the mornings as well, also making it easier to take part. My child is a kindergartener and I didn't have a student in the school last year. I'd heard that there's been friction in the MD PTA for a while; in fact, I understand that there was friction last year too. I write about many issues with the schools so both as a parent, volunteer and op-ed writer I was interested to see what was happening. I think it would be hard to say I'm UNinvolved or not a meeting-goer. Check the minutes for Cider Mill's PTA. I've been a semi-regular there over the last two years (and a class parent). I'm also sometimes at the Board of Ed meetings or watching it at home live on ch. 78. And I'm on the board of WEF, so all-in-all I think my interest in what was happening that day is understandable.
L. J. March 20, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Maggie - You are spot on ! There has got to be a real investigation of these characters. It is the only way to put an end to this situation. Our children and our schools deserve better ! I looked to but could not find the bylaws either. Hard to imagine it states that if there is a vacancy of Sr Officers that the Committee Chair in charge of Gifts & Grants becomes President and able to run the next meeting ... Where is Leny Jacobson - we need her back in charge !! Patch - are you up to the challenge to find out what happened ?
Jaime March 20, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Hang on, HBH is a part of the story ? She was there ?? Why has she not written THE story ? Why the fluff opinion piece when a member of the media attended this historic event ? Unless Heather you were a part of the apparent cabal ??? Maybe it is getting a little clearer why the facts have not come out on Patch. Did you tell Craig to drop it because you are a part of it ? The Hour will have a field day with that if accurate.... JRM thanks for shedding some light on what could be a break through as to why the facts are not getting out!
WiltonPeaceKeeper March 20, 2012 at 10:23 PM
'Investigation of these characters' what exactly do you mean? We can investigate the facts. The facts are that, as per an email from the PTA dated February 15th that we all received ' David Crays, President, and Robert Burkhart, Vice President, were removed from office by the Miller-Driscoll PTA general membership due to non-fulfillment of job responsibilities, and other Miller-Driscoll Bylaws violations' These are all the facts that we are ever going to get. It was within the the rights of a member to table any motion they liked, including the dismissal of a Prez or VP. Is that ethical? Probably not if it allows a member to fill the room with people who will enable the motion to pass. The bylaws don't mention anything about ousting members and as I understand that means that you then refer back to 'Roberts Rules of Order' (a famous publication, nothing to do with Mr Burhart). RR of O say that you can table any motion and pass it with a 2/3 majority if it is a major issue. If you want to get a copy of the by laws, email the secretary, they are usually the keepers of the bylaws. I don't think they are secret, but it will of course mean blowing your anonymity by emailing them. No laws were broke. However the whole episode leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Mediation between the parties would have been useful. It didn't happen. I don't know what an investigation would seek to achieve at this stage. It just looks like people rubber necking a train wreck now.
JRM815 March 21, 2012 at 05:10 AM
I have no doubt that the organizers of this coup followed the LETTER of the law. That state PTA representatives, who do not normally attend MD PTA meetings, were invited to attend this particular meeting indicates the organizers fully intended to follow the rules and wanted independent witnesses to attest to that all rules were followed. This is more than just a bad taste in the mouth. This has adversely affected Wilton's reputation and has the potential to affect property values in town, as people look elsewhere to avoid places like "this". With any train wreck, investigators try to find the cause in the hope that by finding it future wrecks can be avoided. It appears as though those that caused the wreck are trying to cover it up. Personally, I don't want anyone so underhanded and lacking ethics as those who participated in this coup to have any say whatsoever in the Wilton educational system. They've shown they will put their own interests ahead others. I want to ensure they don't get the chance to put their interests ahead of my children's.
WiltonPeaceKeeper March 21, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Affect house prices? Where is your evidence for this. That is a wild and fanciful bit of hysterics. Other much worse things have happened in Wilton. Were you at the PTA meeting on Monday? The place was full of people who want to move on and they elected a new board unanomously. In fact the hysteria only lives on on this web site. No one stood up and demanded an enquiry at the meeting. If you have an issue, have you contacted someone who might actually be able to do something? as, stop press, this website is famous as a den of anonymous over-reaction. The new board are putting together a committee to review and update the bylaws in an attempt, I am sure to put a clause in that prevents this train wreck from happening again. The state representative present at the meeting on Monday, said that the bylaws as they stand are actually illegal in a couple of places. The last re-write, commissioned, I believe by the last President was not approved by the state. No one who had a hand in this fiasco (e.g. TT) has anything to do with MD PTA any more. The best thing that any of us can do right now is attend the meetings, have a voice in our PTA and hold those in power to account for what they are doing. I intend to do that. I'll see you there?
JRM815 March 21, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Fine. Lesson learned. The ends justify the means. Matter dropped.
Susan March 21, 2012 at 03:44 PM
WPK - Excuse me BUT many of us VERY concerned members stayed away in hopes that common sense would prevail and an evening meeting would be held !! The town was crying out for it all last week - and again a few - with illigitimate authority - ignored the call of the membership ! Unanimous vote ?? The Nominating Committee came up with 3 names for 3 spots ! As Rubber Stamp said last week - that is akin to an appointment by the "nominating committee". The "election" is/was a farce. And it disrespects what up until January was a wonderful town jewel. Now it is detritus with a rancid oder
Susan March 21, 2012 at 03:54 PM
And Nancy when a legitimate meeting is held and there is s motion (as in Feb) to remove this current slate of officers (with perhaps a few being renominatedi in the future administration) - may we nominate you from the floor to bring order to the chaos ?? And your 1st order of business can be to announce future meetings will be held in the evening so as not to interested with your work schedule !
Susan March 21, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Whoops typo/self correcting phone .... so as not to interfere with your work schedule.
WiltonPeaceKeeper March 21, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Susan, if you want an evening meeting, email, telephone the president and ask for one. Moaning on here is an ineffective method of communication. Have you addressed Dr Richards with your concerns? Staying away from the meeting is at best naive. How can you hope to affect change by staying away? You have a voice, let it be heard. This was the first meeting I attended all year. There were 40 people there, the best attendance of the year. What common sense did you expect to prevail? Common sense in my opinion did prevail and everyone decided to move forward. A nominating committee comes up with one nomination per spot. You are demonstrating a total lack of awareness about how the whole process works. Come get involved, put yourself forward for the bylaw amendment committee which was discussed during the meeting. Please do something useful other than complain on this website.
Craig Donofrio March 26, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Thank you all for your comments. Wilton Patch is continuing to look into recent developments related to this incident.

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