Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTAs call in help to push for PTA Thrift Shop name change

The National PTA is having “confidential” talks with the PTA Thrift Shop about whether the Chapel Hill-Carrboro nonprofit should stop using the word “PTA” in its name.

A statement, posted Wednesday on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council website, said the discussions are “confidential in order to respect the process” toward resolving the issue, which has been simmering for several years.

PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black said Thursday by phone that the nonprofit “is honoring the confidentiality of the process,” but its board could issue a statement later.

PTA officials and community members have grown concerned since 2016 that the PTA Thrift Shop is using the PTA name but contributing little to no money to 19 local PTAs. The PTA Thrift Shop, which has Chapel Hill and Carrboro stores, was established in 1952 to sell secondhand goods to raise money for local schools.

But since 2012, almost all of that money has gone toward the 20-year mortgage on a $5.5 million campaign to replace the Carrboro store and to build YouthWorx on Main, which offers affordable rental space to nonprofits, next door.

A capital campaign before construction started raised about $1 million toward the project, Jessie-Black said Thursday. Thrift shop officials have said the nonprofit still owed $4.6 million in June 2018, with monthly payments of roughly $26,000.

Jessie-Black’s statements to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board in 2011 led local PTAs to believe the project costs would be paid within a few years, they have said. Instead, PTA leaders said they have struggled to provide supplies and programs that support school and student success at a time when state and national support for education is limited.

PTA Thrift Shop’s roughly $5.5 million capital project including a renovated Carrboro thrift store (right) at 125 W. Main St., an expanded parking lot, and a new YouthWorx on Main building (background, left) for nonprofits working with Chapel Hill and Carrboro young people. Tammy Grubb tgrubb@heraldsun.com

“National PTA takes this matter very seriously and remains committed to ensuring it is resolved to protect the PTA brand and mission,” a statement from National PTA President Jim Accomando said Wednesday.

“We are working hard to resolve the PTA Thrift Shop issue, and we appreciate the patience and support of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council and the community as our organizations continue negotiations,” Accomando said.

The last big PTA Thrift Shop grant to the schools — $265,000 — was in 2011, but only about $119,000 has been allocated in the last seven years. In 2015, the PTA Thrift Shop created Project Impact grants, which spread another $39,655 among 13 schools. The grants are not popular because of the time and understanding it takes to apply for them, PTA officials have said.

PTA members also have criticized PTA Thrift Shop decisions in recent years to change the bylaws, limit local PTA input in decisions, and replace PTA volunteers with paid staff. Roughly 56 percent of its $1.66 million in revenues paid 50 employees’ benefits and salaries in 2016, according to tax documents filed last year.

The PTA Thrift Shop and PTA Council entered mediation last year until the council left, saying the thrift shop wasn’t forthcoming with information about its finances and whether its mission still was to help the schools.

The PTA Council set a July deadline for the PTA Thrift Shop to change its name. The PTA Thrift Shop’s board of directors said it would talk about it but set no deadline for a decision. The PTA Council contacted the national and state PTAs late last year.

Jessie-Black has said in earlier interviews that the PTA Thrift Shop still supports the schools, and that the nonprofit groups that serve young people at YouthWorx, including Skajaja and Triangle Bikeworks, also serve its mission. The long-term plan, she said, is to generate income from the YouthWorx building that also can be used for local schools.

The story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun

Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.