Committee to help draft district gift policy plan

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Specifics include whether city money and grant funds would be required to go toward the gift policy fund.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

A committee is being formed to help draft a final plan for Superintendent John Deasy’s gift policy proposal for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. The committee will include parents, representatives from the Financial Oversight Committee and the Education Foundation, principals from each of the district schools and SMMUSD Board Members Oscar de la Torre and Julia Brownley. At its meeting on March 11, the board discussed which issues the committee should tackle.

Last month, five of the seven board members said they supported Deasy’s proposal to place a percentage of district donations into an equity fund, with the money in that fund being distributed to all district schools on a weighted formula. That formula would take several things into consideration, including socio-economic standing of the students, the schools’ populations and the students’ academic ability. But the board did not take a final vote on the proposal, which has been opposed by a majority of Malibu parents at several hearings. They believe that the requirement would take away from programs that they and organizations specifically donate money to.The committee will deal with many of the specifics that have not been addressed yet in the proposal.

Some of the specific issues include whether money from the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu will be subject to the equity fund requirement. Currently, that money goes directly to the district’s General Fund. Deasy has recommended to the board that a percentage of at least some of the money be put into the fund. Several board members expressed a concern about this at the meeting because they said it could restrict the district’s flexibility on using the money. Brownley gave an example of a situation in which the district would want to use the money from the cities for a specific program, and she said taking away a percentage of that money could affect the program.

Another issue raised was whether a percentage of grants coming to the district should go to the equity fund. Some board members said that might not be possible, because the grants might be issued for specific programs. This would especially be true for grants that come from the state or the federal government, in which the district must apply for them and make a specific request for why it would need the money.

Another topic brought up was how gifts would be treated that were designated for specific district programs. Board Member Maria Leon Vazquez said taking a percentage of some of those gifts could defeat the purpose of the equity fund if those programs were ones that benefited socio-economic disadvantaged youth. She used an example of a donation that benefited a music program at one of the schools with less money, saying that since that program was benefiting the students there, to take away from it would serve no purpose. Because she said the point of the equity fund was to

help economically disadvantaged students, among others, so a program that helps them would be just as useful.

Board Member Mike Jordan, one of the two people on the board who did not endorse a mandatory proposal, said placing exemptions on certain donations could lead to a situation in which everybody would attempt to qualify for them or at least be upset that they are not qualified.

Also at the meeting, a majority of the board members said they preferred Deasy’s original proposal that 15 percent of the donations go to the equity fund. Deasy had changed the proposal last month to a sliding scale in which 15 percent of the first $100,000 would go to the fund, while the percentage of every $100,000 after that would be reduced until it eventually reached zero. Leon Vazquez said the opposition to the proposal appeared to be against it regardless of the details, so there was no reason not to attempt to go forward with what she said is the preferable one.

The board will meet to discuss the proposal again on March 25 at district headquarters in Santa Monica. At that time, it will be presented with a listing of the amount of fundraising done by each district school. The next meeting in Malibu is scheduled for April 1.