PTSA promises a good time under the big top

First graders from Chautauqua display their drift sun, an art project they made for the annual PTSA auction. - Jackie Merrill Photo
First graders from Chautauqua display their drift sun, an art project they made for the annual PTSA auction.
— image credit: Jackie Merrill Photo

Lately when Islanders stop by Movie Magic to rent DVDs or get coffee, they’ve been asking owner Jackie Merrill whether the circus is coming to town. 

Sort of, she tells them. 

The brightly colored “Greatest Show on Earth” poster hanging in Movie Magic’s window actually advertises what Vashon PTSA volunteers hope will be the most entertaining auction to date. 

Complete with a ringmaster (emcee Kevin Joyce), acrobats, jugglers, face painting and carnival games, the PTSA will essentially bring the big top to the Open Space for Arts & Community this year for the organization’s ninth annual auction.

“It will be fun and entertaining and full of lots of things,” said Merrill, who coordinated the event with Islander Beatrice Crouch. 

Merrill, whose two children attend Chautauqua Elementary School, admitted this will be the first year she will attend the PTSA auction, which largely goes to fund much-needed curriculum for the district’s three schools.

“I was always under the impression that it was for a different demographic of parents,” Merrill said.

Now, as a volunteer, Merrill hopes to stamp out the misconception that the auction is only for the well-to-do.

“I realize now there’s going to be some really great things you can get for a song, and the money all goes to the schools,” she said.

PTSA president and auction chair Lauri Hennessey said that in recent years the action has garnered around $100,000. About $60,000 of that, she said, funds new textbooks and the teacher training that goes along with them — materials that are desperately needed by the district and not adequately funded by the state.

But because of the economy, Hennessey said, each year it has been more difficult to meet the PTSA’s $100,000 goal. 

“Every year more and more of the job of making that goal falls on a very small group of sponsors because people don’t spend like they did before,” she said.

Hennessey has worked with fellow volunteers to assure that this year’s event is one that will appeal to all Islanders — not just those with deep pockets. 

In addition to having entertainment and games during the silent auction and before dinner — which will be prepared by Tom French and the crew from the district’s new Experience Food Project and complemented with wine from Palouse Winery — both the live and silent auction will include a number of low-cost items.

For instance, auction-goers will have the chance to raise their bid cards for dozens of affordable tickets to see Ian Moore in concert or take their kids to Mariners or Sounders games. 

“We make a little money, but it’s easy for people to afford it,” Hennessey said.

For those who are able to shell out a little more, she said, the auction will include the usual vacation getaways, gift certificates and local art. 

However, this year’s donations have also provided some of the most unique action items Hennessey has seen, including a garden package of trees, flowers and vegetables, a barbeque to be thrown by an Island family, a used Ford Fiesta, and a jersey autographed by the entire Sounders team.

“That’s a pretty coveted one,” Hennessey said of the jersey.

Also auctioned off will be more than 60 pieces of student art — about three times more than usual. From an impressionistic painting by Chautauqua’s multi-age class to necklaces crafted by students in the high school’s jewelry making class, Hennessey said these student-produced items are always popular.

For the second time, this year’s PTSA auction will be held right as another group of volunteers kicks off a campaign to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fill the school district’s budget shortfall — this year doing so as the newly formed Vashon Schools Foundation. 

Superintendent Michael Soltman said that while the foundation’s efforts are crucial to the district, which is facing a $850,000 deficit, proceeds from the PTSA auction are just as needed. The state now only provides for textbooks to be replaced every 19 years, he said, meaning many books in the schools are outdated and falling apart.

“We are completely dependent on the PTSA for any kind of new curriculum,” he said.

Soltman isn’t worried that the two fundraisers will be in competition, though, saying different donors tend to support different passions. 

For example, he said, those concerned about class size may give to the schools foundation, while those with a passion for foreign languages will give during the “raise the paddle” portion of the auction, which this year will fund new Spanish and Japanese curriculum for the high school and reading programs in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“I don’t see them in conflict,” he said. “I see them as working together to solve the problems we have.”

Soltman — who has already sponsored the auction along with many other Island donors — hopes that despite the still down economy, Islanders will give what they can at the auction, which has quickly become a Vashon tradition.

“I think the auction is a great venue for our community to come together to support institutional excellence,” he said.

The PTSA auction will be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at the Open Space for Arts & Community. Tickets are $50, or $45 when purchased in a group of 10, and are available at Movie Magic and at

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