In just under two months the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation has raised about a third of the money district officials believe is needed to boost reading instruction and staff training and reduce class sizes in local schools, officials with the nonprofit said.
The foundation was charged with raising money for all schools districtwide in 2011 in a controversial decision that barred school site PTAs from giving directly to individual schools for teacher aides and other improvements. Malibu parents argued at the time the move would result in parents donating less money, which could result in loss of educational programs at Malibu schools if the Ed Foundation could not raise comparable funds districtwide.
The foundation has raised $1.2 million of its $4 million annual goal, Linda Greenberg Gross, executive director of the foundation, said Monday.
She said the deadline to raise the money is January 2014. Greenberg Gross said the foundation couldn’t start fundraising until it had the vision for student success goals, which were approved by the Board of Education at the end of May.
“We have a very engaged and wonderful community that wants to participate in this,” Greenberg Gross said. “While we would have loved to start a year ago, we just got the material and the plan. We are anticipating this fall to be the kickoff.”
The Board of Education voted in November of 2011 to take the power to raise money for staff costs — like arts classes or teacher training—out of the hands of parents and make it the charge of the Education Foundation, while allowing parents to pay for “stuff” like supplies or field trips.
The move was especially controversial among Malibu parents, who called it basically a transfer of money from Malibu to Santa Monica. In the most drastic comparison, money raised through PTA funding allowed parents at Point Dume Marine Science School to spend an expected $1,096 per pupil, while the least advantaged school in Santa Monica was expected to spend $65 per pupil.
Malibu parents acknowledged that educational inequality existed within the district, but said the board’s first rule should be “do no harm.” Parents said the top six percent of donors at Malibu PTA, which they said account for 50 percent of overall giving, would enroll their students at private schools in protest if they could not give directly to their children’s public schools. If the Santa Monica-Education Foundation is unable to drastically ramp up its fundraising, the parents feared already successful programs in Malibu could be dismantled.
However, six of the seven boardmembers, each of whom live in Santa Monica, countered that the educational inequality was unjust, and that a centralized foundation could fundraise more effectively and benefit all schools.
“I strongly and with a great deal of conviction support this policy,” Board President Jose Escarce said in December 2011. “And I do so with tremendous optimism, because I see the incredible positives it could have.”
“This whole concept of a transfer of funds, that Malibu has nothing to gain from this policy, I don’t know what to say about that,” boardmember Oscar De la Torre said one month earlier. “We were presented some data but I don’t know what to make of this information yet. But I just want to say that the direction for me is very clear.”
Malibu parents complained at the time that no outreach had been performed to the community before the decision was made, and that its voice had not been listened to.
“Malibu has learned its voice will not be heard, that its contributions will not make a difference,” Webster Elementary parent Craig Foster said. “Your closed minds have silenced the voices of your supporters in Malibu.”
A group of over 40 parents, district officials and other interested parties later got together over the course of months to determine how the centralized funding, once attained, would be spent.
The plan takes much of the focus away from “extras” and puts it squarely behind support for fundamentals like reading and training for teachers, something that has suffered as millions left the budget from state cuts.
Greenberg Gross said most of the money is going to come from individuals, with a portion coming from foundations and corporations.
Foster, now the president of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, said the foundation has “been running as hard as they can to try to put together a proper fundraising effort.”
“My understanding is to hit the fall fundraising season hard,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the fall, but we are certainly all keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best.”
A previous version of this story appeared in the Santa Monica Daily Press.