Tips to Celebrate Student Success: Graduations, Promotions and Proms
Each year, PTAs are asked to sponsor various graduation and celebration events in May and June. These events may be for high school seniors or for eighth and fifth grader advancement to the next school level. They can be elaborate or simple, ranging from all-night celebrations such as Grad Nights to a family reception on the school lawn or an ice cream social on the playground. During the pandemic, drive-throughs in the school parking lot and parades through school communities were popular.
For each event PTA guidelines, school policies and local agency requirements must be followed to ensure the safety of students, chaperones and volunteers, and to safeguard the assets and reputation of the sponsors. This webpage is full of helpful resources to help your PTA make sure you are taking the right steps to fulfill your responsibilities and stage a successful event.
Advance Planning and Coordination
When there is interest in hosting or sponsoring an event, the PTA president appoints a chair and a committee of PTA members, which is approved by the executive board, to complete a study. Assuming the event looks feasible, the executive board presents the proposal to the association for consideration, including the date, scope of activities, volunteer need, and a realistic budget. The approval and details must be recorded in the association minutes to ensure insurance coverage.
When should planning start?
Some events, Grad Nights in particular, require more time for planning and its best to set up a standing committee that works through the entire school year. The Job Description for Graduation/Prom Night is a helpful guide for planning the work involved in all types of celebrations. As plans develop, your committee can use PTA’s Event Planning Worksheet to make sure you’ve thought of all the details.
Have you checked insurance requirements?
Early in your planning, make sure you consult the PTA Insurance Guide and contact the California State PTA insurance broker AIM by phone or by email to assure all activities and the venue will be insured. Related to insurance specifically, keep these things in mind:
- Approvals should be in writing.
- The PTA may need to purchase additional insurance for the event.
- Review the PTA Insurance Guide and school district policy to determine what type of student participation permission forms are required, including, but not limited to, permission for photography and videos, inclusion of a student’s medical concerns, if there are any, and parent or adult emergency contact information for the duration of the event.
- School districts and off campus venues may require proof of a PTA certificate of insurance and may request to be named as additional insured. AIM will provide this document at no cost.
- PTA insurance does NOT cover COVID-19 related illness; there is no additional insurance for this available for purchase. Take care that all local protocols and mandates are being followed and that participants are aware of any restrictions prior to attendance.
- Under no circumstances should PTA sign a hold harmless agreement with a venue, vendor or contractor. Contact AIM or your district PTA immediately. DO NOT SIGN A HOLD HARMLESS AGREEMENT.
Prior to the event, it is best to determine if a contractor has worker compensation coverage and obtain a copy of the insurance declaration. The declaration must show coverage for the date of your event. Should a contractor have no worker compensation coverage, include the cost of the insurance through the PTA insurance provider, 5% of the contract, as an expense to the PTA event budget. In mid-December, when the treasurer and chair are required to complete the annual Worker Compensation Report, the effort required to verify this information can be stressful but doing so keeps additional insurance premiums at a minimum.
Are there other local rules or legal requirements?
Local jurisdictions (city, law enforcement, fire departments, recreation and park districts, health departments) must be contacted to determine if:
- assembly permits are required,
- decorations must be fire-retardant treated, or
- there are other requirements for food and beverage service, etc.
There are special rules for activities that require an admission fee, or a fee to participate in the specific activity, and also award cash or items of value as prizes. That includes, but is not limited to bingo, casino, or gaming activities. You can find out if your planned activity requires a gaming permit from the California Attorney General’s Office and local cities. Also, individuals under the age of 18 are not permitted to participate in gaming activities.
Proper Accounting for Donations
Parents and business donations are always welcome and can help defray event costs. However, all donations need to be carefully tracked.
- Cash receipts must be recorded using a Cash Verification Form and presented to the association treasurer for deposit in the PTA’s bank account.
- Should a sponsor wish to underwrite the event, review the PTA noncommercial policy and communication guidelines on how to appropriately thank sponsors and business donors.
- Clarify with donors that remaining funds may be absorbed into the general fund after the event has concluded. (This avoids having to deal with restricted fund carryover on taxes, making it easier for everyone.)
- For in-kind donations, careful records (donor name, contact information) must be kept and provided to the treasurer for the annual tax filings. The records must include how the in-kind donations were used.
- Donor amounts must be tracked by the chair and the treasurer to determine if “donation receipts” are required for donors at year end when the cumulative threshold of $250 is reached by an individual donor.
Can we take gift-card donations?
Gift card donations are to be treated like cash according to the IRS and may be used for association-approved event expenses. Donors must be provided a written receipt. Gift cards must be stored in a bank safe deposit box or safe. The PTA Advance Payment Authorization Form is used when committee members make purchases.
Gift cards are sometimes used as prizes but in that case the IRS considers them to be gifts to individuals and they become taxable income. For that reason, California State PTA does not recommend the use of gift cards as prizes. We do recommend that a bank account be established within the PTA’s ledger to log the receipt of and expense use of gift cards. Gift card income and expense must be reported to tax agencies annually.
What if someone sets up crowd sourcing on our PTA’s behalf?
Should another entity or individual initiate a “crowd sourcing donation” campaign, PTA must consider its own position first and whether there is exposure to PTA per the demands of the crowd-sourced fund offer. Many crowd-funding platforms are considered co-venturers by the California Attorney General and, per their official guidance, must be reported on your Charitable Trust filing each year .
Your PTA must maintain authority and the right to final decisions for crowd-sourcing events and follow PTA procedures when your association is the sponsor or a co-sponsor.
The Executive Board Stays Involved
Your PTA executive board retains final responsibility for any event and needs to make sure reporting from any standing or ad hoc committee is complete and accurate, and that proper financial procedures are followed. For example:
- The committee needs to keep minutes of its meetings and provide them to the association secretary.
- Reports must be presented monthly to the executive board including committee recommendations and a written financial accounting of monies received and disbursed.
- Approvals should be obtained in advance for upcoming expenditures and payments.
Advance planning is particularly important when contracts are involved. A committee chair or member is not authorized to sign or commit the PTA to a contract. All contracts must be approved by the association with specific authorization for the president and one other elected officer to sign the contract on behalf of the association. Do not rely on a hand shake or verbal contract.
As is true with financial matters generally, your PTA can protect itself from financial trouble and issues by being conscientious about its practices. Here are a few reminders:
- Payment Authorization Forms must be used for all expenditures, include expenditure receipts and invoices, and be signed by the secretary and president, prior to check writing.
- Contracts must be approved by the association before signed by the president and one other elected officer.
- If a unique bank account is established for an event, the executive board must approve the account in advance, and the president and treasurer must be signers on the account; another officer may be a signer when specifically permitted in the bylaws.
- The association treasurer must retain the checkbook, and bank statements and statement reconciliations must be reviewed and signed by a non-check signer monthly.
- The funds belong to PTA and the association determines the use of the funds preceding, during and remaining after the event has concluded.
- As with all PTA financial accounts, the unique account audits must be completed twice annually, reviewed by an audit committee and executive board, and must be adopted by the association.
- The executive board authorizes the closure of the account, and an audit of the PTA’s financial records must be completed when a bank account is closed.
- The PTA may not open a bank account under their name and EIN for a non-PTA committee.
Assuring the Event is Safe and Accessible to All Students
PTA, as an event sponsor, has a duty of care for students during the activity. Important questions include:
- Do chaperones and volunteers need to complete background checks?
- Especially for overnight events, are paid security and EMT services preferred or required?
- Is it clear that parents must be contacted before a student is permitted to leave, and that students should not be readmitted?
Care must be taken to assure the venue and event activities are accessible to all students and adults. No student may be excluded because of a disability. In some instances, special transportation may be required or a paraprofessional or medically licensed individual must be contracted to care for a participant.
If students or families are required to purchase tickets to attend the event, it is important to keep the ticket cost reasonable. The PTA should consider providing discounts or grants for students/families in need. These grants must be determined and distributed with utmost discretion. Often generous families and community members are willing to purchase an extra ticket or contribute to the event grant fund to ensure the event is inclusive.
Here again are some key tools from California State PTA to make your job easier.
Be sure to refer to the Job Description for Graduation/Prom Night and the other resources listed here to help assure that yours is a safe, successful graduation, promotion, or prom celebration.