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Nonprofit PTA, for-profit rival PTO Today settle

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 2:36 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — The nonprofit National Parent Teacher Association — better known as the PTA — and a for-profit rival have settled a deceptive practices lawsuit, the organizations announced in a joint statement Monday.

The iconic, 116-year-old PTA had accused the newer PTO Today of engaging in false advertising, trademark infringement and other deceptive practices in a bid to siphon members away from the older group.

The lawsuit, filed last year in federal court in Chicago, was dismissed and no money changed hands, according to the statement. It offers no detail about what PTO Today might do to allay the PTA's concerns.

"Schools and parents nationwide are much better served by both the ... PTA and PTO Today focusing on our mutual good work rather than on legal battles," PTO Today founder Tim Sullivan said in the statement.

In her statement, National PTA president Betsy Landers emphasized what sets her group apart.

"It is important for the public to understand that what makes PTA unique is the national network of families united in their commitment to improving the education, health, and safety of all children," she said.

A countersuit that PTO Today filed has also been dismissed.

The PTA was such a fixture of American life that it even became the subject of a hit song in the late 1960s, "Harper Valley PTA." But the organization, based in Alexandria, Va., and Chicago, has seen membership fall by more than half of the 12 million members it had in its heyday in the 1960s. Racial rifts in the 1960s and '70s and the PTA's support of school desegregation led to a relatively quick drop in membership then, the PTA has said.

PTO Today, the Massachusetts-based upstart, put itself on a collision course with the PTA by setting itself up as an alternative in 1999, trying to take advantage of parents looking for new ways of interacting with their kids' schools.

The PTA has a vast network of affiliates, and one of its selling points has been its tremendous influence in the corridors of state capitols and Washington, D.C.

PTO Today offers such services as insurance, resource kits and advice to independent parent-teacher organizations nationwide. Sullivan said last year that 90 percent of his company's income comes from sponsorships and advertising, including in its magazine. He has declined to provide financial details.

The lawsuit had also accused PTO Today of deceptively hinting it has a relationship with the PTA as a way to secure advertising for its website and magazine, something Sullivan adamantly denied. PTO is a generic term for independent parent-teacher groups.

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Follow Michael Tarm at www.twitter.com/mtarm

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