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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SMMUSD Superintendent Discusses Details of Fundraising Reform

BY KRISTINA KELL

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Superintendent's Advisory Committee met Monday might in Malibu at Webster Elementary School to discuss details of a districtwide fundraising campaign. The anticipated issue on the agenda was the revelation of what Sandra Lyon and her staff consider “quality programs” of educational need, which she intends to equalize among SMMUSD schools.
The superintendent allowed members to view a preliminary breakdown of “quality programs” currently funded by all PTAs. Under this model, distributed to the members of the advisory committee, school programs are put into tiered categories and the top tiered programs will be funded first. Top tiered programs in Santa Monica, which are slated to receive the money from Title 1 Funding (Federal Government funds distributed public schools in need), include instructional aids, Spanish reading support, English reading support, and bilingual community liaisons. At this point, no Title 1 money funds any of the above programs in Malibu.
To date, the Malibu PTAs have funded their own instructional aids and reading assistants, as well as computer labs and computer leases, art history instruction, science labs equipment and maintenance, P.E. assistants, homework clubs, field trips, gardening programs, dance, music and more. Under the new fundraising model, all of these programs will be theoretically funded by the SMMUSD Education Foundation’s collective fundraising effort.
Opponents of the new fundraising model claim that the burden of raising enough money to continue to support the same programs in the two cities falls directly on the shoulders of Malibu residents and their donations to the PTA, because the Malibu PTA raises substantially more money than the Santa Monica PTA. They contend that Malibu residents can expect to receive between 27 cents and 45 cents on every dollar they donate to the PTA under the superintendent’s model, while the remaining assets are funneled into Santa Monica to fund programs at schools where fundraising is low. If there are not enough funds to pay for all the existing programs in Malibu and equal ones in Santa Monica, the programs the district determines are less important will be dropped.
These opponents also say that if sufficient money is not raised to support top tier and underlying tiered programs in Santa Monica as well as in Malibu, Malibu will cease to enjoy the benefits of voluntary parent donations and their children’s education will suffer.
Furthermore, upon the fundraising models commencement, possibly as early as next school year, many Malibu parents say they will be unwilling to donate money for school programs that do not benefit children in Malibu but leave the community and are “managed” by the Education Foundation, an outside organization, presenting to date, no external audit and no tangible accountability to the Malibu community.
Exacerbating the climate of distrust is the recent resignation under protest of Joan Chu Reese from the Financial Oversight Committee (FOC), claiming the silencing of non-Board centric points of view.
Initial comments from some members of the FOC last year to SMMUSD Board had questioned the rush and method of the implementation of district-wide fundraising and cited the expectation that money which SSMUSD expects to collect may be dramatically overstated and there likely would not be enough funds to maintain the educational programs currently in place.
During the meeting, an advisory committee member indicated that a PTA could still pay for an outside service directly, circumventing the district, as long as that provider is short term and carries their own liability insurance, to which the superintendent responded that the “spirit of the policy was not to create loopholes” However, opponents of the district model claim that if the district is going to force participation from the Malibu community, then they will be forced to explore all available avenues to ensure Malibu education experiences as little harm as possible.
Another attendee at Monday’s advisory board meeting angrily stated when asked about the current proposals under discussion, “Malibu citizens vehemently opposed this districtwide fundraising as categorically unfair to the children and citizens of Malibu, but it was passed nonetheless by a school board who could care less whether Malibu kids lost the special programs so near and dear to the folks in Malibu, because they saw Malibu as their cash cow, here to improve Santa Monica schools at Malibu kids’ expense.”

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