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Are schools asking too much of parents?



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Many Utah parents face steady requests for help and volunteers at their children's schools, and a growing number are feeling the pressure and starting to balk.

Chelsi Dall recently lived the PTA president's nightmare: a Moms and Muffins school event for about 700. Her committed volunteers: two.

"It can get stressful," she says.

Fortunately, others pitched in at the last minute and the event was a success. But Dall expects to need tougher recruiting tactics for the next event.

"If we get desperate, we make phone calls," she says.

"There are times when I want to avoid the phone call," says parent Charisse Stewart.

"You know they're screening their calls," says Sylvia Jones, a former PTA president at Indian Hills Elementary School. "They see you calling and they don't either return the call or they avoid the phone call."

It's no wonder, say these involved moms. With book sales, carnivals and other fundraisers, the responsibility of helping out can become overwhelming.

They all want to be involved in their child's education, but have a harder time balancing those demands with jobs and home.

"I think it's getting worse," Dall says. "Just with the economy and more parents going back to work, they can't volunteer. It's hard for them to be a part of the school"

At the same time, the economy has left schools needing parents more than ever to fill the growing gap.

"Now there's not even a budget for buses and field trips, so some parents, along with teachers, are paying for that out of their own pocket," Jones says.

Many parents wish more would share the burden, rather than the same group answering every call.

"Almost every time there is a function, I'm the one that's there," says parent Sonja Dippie.

But in the end, more are simply having to say no, accepting they can't provide everything schools need, as much as they'd like to try.

"It just stretches you to the point where you can't do it all, you just can't," said parent Kelly Williams.

We had several educators weigh in who suggested parents can make a huge difference even with small time commitments. With limited time, the first place you should volunteer is directly in your child's class.

And the PTA is issuing a challenge for every parent to volunteer just three hours a year.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

Nadine Wimmer

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