Sto-Rox Parent Teacher Organization helps cash-strapped schools survive

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It’s the little things like having working pencil sharpeners in each classroom that mean a lot to Sto-Rox students, parents and teachers who are making due in a school system surviving on a shoestring budget.

Sto-Rox Parent Teacher Organization leaders Tina Nagel, Connie Deem, Michelle Loadman and Mandy Kurschinske have spent the past three years working as core members of a group that is an assumed entity at many other school districts.

The women have decided that an insufficient budget should not mean shortfalls in everyday items that students in more affluent districts take for granted. They strive to make things work for them and the approximately dozen other parent volunteers, spending a majority of their time raising funds, finding deals, granting wishes and offering their time at the elementary and middle school levels.

The teachers are appreciative.

“We wouldn’t have what we have without them,” said Sherine Raymond, a first grade teacher. They brought us crayons when the district couldn’t afford to. If it wasn’t for them; no field trips, no field day.”

No playground repairs and updates to the tune of $7,600, either.

For the past two years, the organization has been setting aside funds raised during a special event designed to give the students a joy-filled afternoon where they get to splat their teachers with water-filled balloons. This year’s event was Friday with as many as five balloons being made available for $1 each for students. More than 1,200 balloons were tossed at teachers.

Playground work will be performed this summer and the difference in money will be made up for out of the organization’s main fund.

The money will be used to place permanent padding under the swing sets and replace rust spots and repair broken sections of the elementary playground used during recess during school and community recreation after school.

“It’s become a part of our lives. What is it that they need? We coupon. We write letters,” said Mrs Deem. “The four of us all work different schedules, different hours, but not a day goes by that we aren’t communicating.”

The women also organize candy and stromboli sales, monthly frozen food events, newspaper recycling, raffles, auctions and even a shoe recycling program that nets 50 cents per pound. They also take advantage of fundraising programs offered by area grocery stores and the usual Box Tops and Labels for education programs.

“[We’re] fundraising where the district can’t do more,” said Mrs. Nagel.

With a $1.3 million hole still left in the district’s 2014-15 budget that administrators are struggling to fill by June 26, the PTO will continue to do what it can to fill in the gaps.

One of those things is to make sure that each elementary grade goes on an annual outing by providing on average $1,500 per grade. Some of the field trips are funded through grants secured by teachers. In many cases, the PTO covers the costs of bus transportation, admission, matching shirts for the group and they serve as chaperones.

PTO members said they feel outings are important as some of these children have never been to the Children’s Museum or rarely travel across the McKees Rocks Bridge. Mrs. Nagel said some of the students stare out the bus windows during these trips, asking if the water beneath them is the Ohio River.

At the middle school level, the group helps with the cost of the 7th and 8th grade Washington, D.C. trip. Monthly parties are held at each grade level to reward good behavior. Quarterly, the group offers grade-wide events to honor students for good grades, proper behavior and perfect attendance.

In April, the women were honored by the school board for their work.

“They are a tremendous resource to this school district,” said acting superintendent Frank Dalmas. “If there is any work we need here, they are the first ones at the front of the line saying we’ll do it.”

The PTO will accept donations: Sto- Rox PTO, 300 Ewing Road, McKees Rocks, PA 15136.

Sonja Reis, freelance writer:

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