BOB MOON: Regular listeners of Marketplace will probably be familiar with these terms: backdating, market-timing, pretexting. We talk a lot about big financial scandals on this program. But what about the scandals a bit closer to home?
The dollar amounts may be smaller, but they can sure hit us where it hurts. We’re talking identity thieves, investment scams and . . . the PTA?
In this edition of the Loh Down, humorist Sandra Tsing Loh gives us the skinny on a new kind of shakedown.
SANDRA TSING LOH: Of all the shady financial institutions business shows cover today, thank goodness no one ever probes the seamy underworlds of America’s PTAs.
If pushy mothers formed terrorist cells, that’s what today’s PTAs look like. Or at least that’s how it seems at my friend Ann’s school.
Ann is a freelance writer lucky enough to be living within permit distance of one of those magical affluent public elementaries. This school’s after-school enrichment programs are amazing! The activities seems so exotic, there’s like dance theater, glass-blowing, tae kwan do! Which apparently costs a lot.
Ann recalls the first week of school being phoned by a no-nonsense PTA mom who informed her the standard annual family pledge was $500. In a city where private schools cost $20,000, some think nothing of bidding another $4,000 on the principal’s iPod, as one family did last year at the annual spring fundraiser which grossed $300,000!
The better PTAs claim they have to raise that much because California funds its schools so poorly but I don’t know. That’s a lot of arm-twisting and in the meantime, Valley Forge? Is it mandatory that the entire fifth grade travel to Valley Forge? I don’t recall we ever did that, and I went to public school in those golden pre-property tax-cap years. Making a mission out of Popsicle sticks, that was good enough for us!
Then again, maybe I’m jealous. Because, on the PTA at my daughter’s school we raise so little. With our 59 percent free- and reduced-lunch population, I blame our schools new immigrant parents, who simply don’t understand English. “Your money: Hand . . . it. . . over.” Or perhaps they just pretend to “No habla,” when we chase after them with our dubious wares of heart-shaped key chains, Chuck E. Cheese tickets, and Sally Foster gift wrap. Which frankly, I don’t want to buy either.
On the upside, in our 21st century city, I’ve seen Armenian parents who’ll pay to see their sons squeak away on violins, Iranian parents who weep with joy at spelling bees, Japanese who go mad for, yes, “Yakisoba Bingo Night!” PTAs of the future? Could well be.
And bottom line: everyone seems to love brownies. Love of 25-cent brownies spans all cultures. Not that sugar is allowed in public schools any more, but we have our ways of getting around things. Why? We’re the PTA!
MOON: Humorist Sandra Tsing Loh lives in Van Nuys, California.
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