Orange County

Frustrated parents say Chapel Hill’s PTA Thrift Shop still isn’t answering questions

The PTA Thrift Shops in Carrboro and Chapel Hill have sold secondhand clothing and other goods for 65 years to support local schools. PTA members at those schools now are questioning whether the nonprofit thrift shop will return to its mission after cutting funds in recent years to help pay for a construction project at the Carrboro location.
The PTA Thrift Shops in Carrboro and Chapel Hill have sold secondhand clothing and other goods for 65 years to support local schools. PTA members at those schools now are questioning whether the nonprofit thrift shop will return to its mission after cutting funds in recent years to help pay for a construction project at the Carrboro location. File photo

The PTA Thrift Shop’s funding cuts to local schools and silence from its leaders are leaving a lot of parents frustrated, current and former PTA leaders say.

Parents, students and staff got a limited update Wednesday night during the Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA Council’s meeting. Council President Lisa Kaylie said she offered to deliver a handout from PTA Thrift Shop officials when board Chairwoman Dawn Edgerton contacted her Monday.

The call came too late to give the board time to speak, Kaylie said; Edgerton declined to send the information, she said. Kaylie noted the PTA Council also will not be able to meet with the thrift shop Board of Directors next week, as Edgerton had requested Tuesday.

The nonprofit PTA Thrift Shop has shared its net proceeds from selling secondhand goods since 1952 with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. The allocations have been based since 2014 on a school’s student population and the number of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

It previously was based on each school’s student population and volunteer hours.

The schools were receiving a total of over $200,000 a year prior to 2012, but the amount fell in the last five years as the PTA Thrift Shop launched a $5 million project to expand its Carrboro store and add a second building – YouthWorx on Main. YouthWorx leased its first low-cost space to nonprofits serving local youths this summer.

Barbara Jessie Black
Barbara Jessie-Black PTA Thrift Shops Contributed

PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black said the expansion was meant to sustain the thrift shop’s future and help it earn more money for schools by using its land more effectively.

The thrift shop has given the schools a total allocation of $119,000 since 2012. The agency started a new program in 2015 – Project Impact – that has provided eight grants worth a total of $22,838.

The program will provide another five grants this school year, Edgerton said. She did not know how much the latest grants are worth and could not confirm whether regular allocations to the schools would resume next year.

PTA officials said they didn’t expect the cuts to last this long. The Council emailed the thrift shop’s board Aug. 15 to get a copy of its budget and the board minutes from 2014 when the bylaws were changed to remove a PTA membership clause.

That change would have required a two-thirds vote by the members, Kaylie said. She disputed a statement Wednesday from board Chairwoman Dawn Edgerton that the vote was taken electronically following a series of focus group meetings.

The PTA Council hasn’t gotten a written response to either question, Kaylie said. They will ask now for documents that show the focus groups and electronic vote actually took place, she said.

Jeff Hall, a former PTA Council president, said they may have gotten information that sort of change was being considered in 2014, but there was no vote.

He recalls the thrift shop changed its business model in 2012 to have more accountability for how the funds were used and to get project loans. They were going to use the grants program to get more money for the schools, he said.

The thrift shop is an independent entity that can do whatever it wants, he and other PTA leaders said, but they shouldn’t use the PTA name or its members’ goodwill to do it.

“The promise was always that not only would money be coming back to the schools eventually but it would be even more than we had before, and that’s kind of what we signed on for,” Hall said. “PTAs helped with the capital campaign, they continued to work the thrift store, and now people are feeling like we were completely lied to.”

Jessie-Black, who is traveling this week, and Edgerton did not provide requested documents Thursday.

Edgerton did clarify in an email from board leaders that the PTA Thrift Shop no longer relies on volunteers to help run its stores, although the nonprofit’s website still encourages parents to volunteer.

“The change to no volunteers was phased out over several years and completed during the 2012-2013 academic year,” the board’s letter states. “Both locations are operated by paid professional staff.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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