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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Malibu PTA Members Briefed by School District’s New PR/Fundraising Firm

 • Grassroots Group Explores Legal Ways for Private  Donations to Be Used Solely at Local Schools

BY KRISTINA KELL

Linda Gross, the executive director of the controversial Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation, arranged a meeting Monday afternoon at Webster Elementary School between the SMMEF’s newly acquired public relations/fundraising firm, PRP Fundraising, LLC, and Malibu PTA members. PRP executives Paul Lanning and Richard Mahan addressed a group of Malibu PTA members, to describe their new role as paid consultants specializing in public relations, marketing and fundraising.
SMMEF is the entity that is slated to replace the Malibu and Santa Monica PTAs as the sole fundraising organization in both cities and is responsible for all funding disbursements to the schools under the direction of Superintendent Sandra Lyon. The SMMEF’s website states it is “the sole fundraising organization equitably serving the entire Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.”
Opponents to the new fundraising model claim that when the model is implemented (likely by fall of 2013), the “equity” part of the SMMEF description doesn’t apply to Malibu because Malibu schools stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of their private PTA donations to Santa Monica.
Only when particular Santa Monica schools have “raised their boats” for per-student spending, can any PTA private donations return to Malibu for essential programs and staff that Malibu PTAs have traditionally funded. In order for the funds to return to Malibu, the SMMEF, which last year raised approximately $400,000, would need to raise roughly three million dollars—donations they expect in large part to come from wealthy Malibu residents.
During the meeting with PRP, Malibu PTA members repeatedly recounted the feelings of animosity and resentment that developed when local residents learned they would have to adhere to a new fundraising model that, in their opinion, was implemented hastily with disregard for the entire Malibu community. 
PRP executives agreed that the district “put the horse before the cart” by implementing the new fundraising model, but indicated that they were there to “move forward.” In response, Malibu PTA members questioned how the SMMEF expected to obtain private donations from citizens of Malibu who feel disrespected, outraged and steamrolled by a school board that shows little-to-no concern for them. The executives expressed the notion that there are untapped “big corporate donors” in Malibu who would be willing to “dig deep.” 
Malibu PTA members explained that since the centralized fundraising model was passed in November 2011, in anticipation to its future implementation, Malibu schools have lost about 50 percent of their major donors. They have either removed their children from the district, or will not donate to the SMMEF to support Santa Monica schools. The Malibu PTA also explained that the largest majority of money donated to Malibu PTA comes from Malibu residents themselves and that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find “big corporate donors” willing to “pick up the slack” and donate to perceived wealthy communities like Malibu and Santa Monica.
One PTA member called the new fundraising plan a “paper house” and predicted that if the SMMEF believes it can count on Malibu residents to support Santa Monica schools at the expense of Malibu schools, it would fail.  
Another consideration for some Malibu PTA members was the timing in hiring this PR/fundraising firm, in lieu of the fact that Malibu PTAs have been successfully fundraising and providing programs at their schools for years. PTA members questioned why SMMEF did not seek outside fundraising help for Santa Monica schools earlier.
One PTA member said, after the meeting, “If the foundation had the foresight to hire this fundraising firm when they needed more money for Santa Monica over the past few years, they could have avoided this whole district-wide fundraising debacle altogether, or at least avoided the animosity that exists in Malibu toward the school board.”
Meanwhile, a large grassroots group of Malibu parents has formed that is exploring ways to legally circumvent the upcoming policy, which they regard as unfair to the community and children of Malibu. These parents say that once the new fundraising policy is implemented, a donation can stay at a particular school if it is designated for tangible items (computers, classroom supplies, field trips, spirit wear, etc.), anything that doesn’t include staff or professional development. Donors must specify exactly what the funds are to be used for at the time of the donation.
The grassroots group is urging Malibu parents to ask their PTA representatives or teachers in which areas their schools could use financial help and designate their donations accordingly to their allocation to the SMMEF.
These parents efforts are also exploring other avenues for enlisting non-district personnel who can be involved in the schools next year, including more volunteers, non-district aides, part-time/short-term consultants for reading, art, music, or science, that donors can support directly or indirectly and who are not affiliated with the school district as employees.
Before the onset of the 2012-2013 school year, the SMMEF plans on soliciting from donor lists obtained from each Malibu school’s PTA. Any donations made to the SMMEF and not designated otherwise, will be under the sole control and discretion of the SMMEF.

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