Last week the members of John Brown Francis’ Parent Teacher Association gathered to discuss the status of their PTA, which had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS in February.
Jackie Harris-Connor, the PTA’s president, said the group had two main options: stay a PTA and attempt to regain their 501c3 status, or dissolve and form a PTO, a Parent Teacher Organization that would operate independently.
The group had been working with a third-party accountant to navigate the paperwork required to regain their status, but Harris-Connor said the accountant failed to attend Thursday’s meeting. What was supposed to be an information session and a vote turned into a discussion of their options. The issue never went to a vote, and instead the roughly 40 people who attended want to keep the PTA.
On Friday, Harris-Connor contacted another accountant, Jason Smith, who has agreed to take on the PTA’s case and help them with their paperwork. Harris-Connor said Smith has not asked for compensation yet, but believes paying him would be worth the price.
“He made me feel like everything is going to be fine,” she said.
But Harris-Connor didn’t always feel like everything was going to be fine, and still says she is “disappointed” with the Rhode Island and National PTAs for not offering more help.
Heather Dean, CPA, deputy executive director, Finance & Operations at National PTA, contested Harris-Connor’s claims.
“In February we got an email from [Harris-Connor] and we informed her what forms she needed to fill out,” said Dean.
Dean also contacted the Rhode Island PTA, and let them take the reigns temporarily. The Rhode Island PTA could not be reached for comment.
Eventually, Dean said the National PTA stepped back in to the picture.
What prevented Harris-Connor from delving into the 1023 form that would help them regain their 501c3 status, was missing governing documents, like bylaws, from the PTA’s inception in the 1960s. Neither the PTA nor the state had retained copies of these documents, which were required by the IRS.
“It just aggravated the situation,” said Dean of the missing papers.
Dean said all PTAs should keep governing documents but acknowledged that things like this do happen.
“It was the perfect storm,” she said.
Dean said the National PTA did everything they could for the JBF group, and even pointed them toward a pre-filled 1023 form on their site.
Yesterday, Harris-Connor said she received the pre-filled form via email last Thursday, the day the Beacon ran the story about the JBF PTA’s plight. Before last week, Harris-Connor said she had trouble finding the form on the site, and communicated that to the National PTA.
“We have instructions that walk you through everything,” said Dean. “We did everything we could legally do.”
Dean said she believes Harris-Connor, who is not an accountant, was nervous to take the plunge into the forms. Still, she said a lot of other PTAs go through the process.
James Martinez, spokesman for the National PTA, said they pride themselves on the level of service they offer their members.
“Local PTAs are the lifeblood of our association,” he said. “If we don’t service them, we might as well give up.”
Despite the struggles, Harris-Connor said she is proud of the school’s perseverance.
“We weren’t going to stop,” she said. “We kept going and we’ll keep going.”
For now, Harris-Connor and Smith will begin to wade through the paperwork and then await the IRS’ decision, which would take upwards of nine months. Still, Harris-Connor is happy with the PTA’s decision.
“Honestly, I like the safety of having a government organization overseeing us,” said Harris-Connor, who thinks maintaining a parent organization in the school is in the best interest of the students.
The National PTA is supportive, too.
“I think it’s great,” said Dean of the JBF PTA’s choice. “They’re a strong PTA in Rhode Island.”