Fundraising Falls Short, Malibu Blamed

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Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part series about Santa Monica-Malibu School District fundraising.

 Major discrepancies exist across school sites in the levels of participation in the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation’s (SMMEF) annual fundraiser as the June 30 deadline looms.

District families had raised about 45 percent of the money in the current drive and 28.7 percent of families had contributed as of last month, according to agency data.

But giving rates varied significantly at the various Santa Monica-Malibu campuses, data show, underscoring the obstacles of the district’s recently implemented centralized fundraising system.

SMMEF has generated about $2.2 million of its $4-million goal in a fundraising campaign that supports instructional aides, literacy coaches, arts programming and other enrichment activities throughout the school district. The district’s fundraising arm asks families to donate $700 per student.

Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez suggested at an April board meeting that a way to fill the funding gap is for Malibu parents to step up.

“The biggest piece is …  in Malibu, I don’t think we can get our parents on board,” Leon-Vazquez said. “They’re at the point where they’re just waiting until they can break [away from the unified school district.]”

Malibu residents have in the past expressed support for breaking away from the SMMUSD, including creating the nonprofit AMPS, Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, which current Board Member Craig Foster was president of at the time he was elected onto the School Board.

According to data gathered by the Santa Monica Daily Press, the numbers, as they say, don’t lie.

Malibu families have contributed at the lowest rates, including at Malibu High School (8.3 percent participation), Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School (14.2), Juan Cabrillo Elementary School (15.2) and Webster Elementary School (17.2).

Numbers in Santa Monica are hardly better.

Meanwhile, just 16.9 percent of families at Santa Monica High School, the district’s largest campus, have contributed to current fundraiser.

Close to 80 percent of families at Olympic High School, the district’s continuation site, had donated to SMMEF as of April 23, and 72 percent of families at Santa Monica Alternative School House had contributed.

Participation rates topped 40 percent at several elementary schools, including Franklin (55.5), Muir (45.7) and Will Rogers (45.6).

“As we transition over the next few years, participation will increase across the board,” SMMEF executive director Linda Greenberg said. “I do feel strongly that this process is going to take some time to transition and become part of culture. It is going to take a few more years before it becomes the way we fundraise together as a community.”

Greenberg said families in the district are still learning about the new fundraising system and that PTA officials and other leaders are still educating parents about the centralized model.

For example, she said, many parents don’t realize they can donate equipment and supplies — stuff, not staff — directly to their children’s schools.

“Before, the programming you got was dependent on how much your PTA could raise, and that led to a lot of inequity,” Greenberg said. “These are communities that care about all kids … all students deserve access to excellent education. The school board has done a great service to children in passing this policy.”

But the centralized fundraising system has been heavily scrutinized, and district officials are trying to figure out how to maximize its potential.

School officials, including district Supt. Sandra Lyon, have expressed interest in paying for professional development and literacy coaches through the general fund.

“(Lyon) was uncomfortable with those being subject to fundraising,” Greenberg said.

At a recent meeting, the Board of Education reviewed a preliminary 2015-16 budget that projects an annual contribution of $2.2 million from the foundation. Exactly what donations to the foundation will pay for going forward remains to be seen.

“While our goal may become $2.2 million, I think the capacity of the community is well beyond that,” Greenberg said. “We will get there and raise even more. This is a change for the entire community, so it’s going take some time.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Santa Monica Daily Press.

Emily Sawicki contributed to this report.