Districtwide Fundraising Strategy Has Failed


As part of an ongoing process to gradually separate Malibu and Santa Monica schools, there has been talk of splitting fundraising from under the umbrella of the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation (SMMEF) to city-specific groups. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) School Board unanimously decided, 5-0, to make the idea an action item at its last meeting on June 14. (Board member Ralph Mechur recused himself from the discussion; board member Craig Foster was absent.)

Malibu participation in districtwide fundraising is low.

“The Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation is charged with raising funding money throughout the district for programs that are approved by the school board—you here,” SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Drati said at the meeting. “ … After several years, they’ve collected enough data that shows that where they may be lacking is in the Malibu area.”

According to a report, Malibu’s contribution accounts for five percent of the total funds raised from parents for the foundation this year through May. Malibu accounted for the same amount back in 2016. 

SMMEF Board of Directors currently has one parent—Wendy Sidley—as its only Malibu representation on the 18-person board. (Ann Conkle, communications and events manager for the foundation, said this was “despite several other invitations to Malibu parents.”)

The low Malibu participation is not new; it stems from a school board decision made nearly seven years ago. 

Fundraising for SMMUSD schools was centralized in late 2011. The decision banned Parent Teacher Associations from making large-scale donations to their individual schools; from then on, the funds had to come through the SMMEF. This angered many Malibu parents, who believed local school programs would suffer from a unified budget. Now it seems the district is reversing that decision.

Based on recent talks with Malibu and Santa Monica PTAs, school principals, SMMUSD board members and others, Drati said, “that notion of having two separate fundraising mechanisms seems to be something that both communities are interested in.”

“They also believe it would boost the fundraising for the programs,” he added.

The most well-known school fundraising entity in Malibu is The Shark Fund. The group has funded programs, staffing and more for both Malibu Middle and High schools since 2003.

As to whether the organization would assume the mantle of supporting other locals schools, Shark Fund chairwoman Gardia Fox said, “The answer is yes.”

“It will have to be decided amongst the leaders of the Malibu schools whether The Shark Fund is the best option for a centralized funding organization in Malibu,” she added in a phone call with the Times.

Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez noted that “making a clean split” with fundraising would be a smart move following parallel discussions of a bond measure.

As reported by The Malibu Times in early May, the proposed bond would be city-specific for the first time, resulting in two separate bonds if passed; money from each bond would go back to the respective city’s schools. As to whether the measure will be on November ballots, the school board will make a decision at its July 19 meeting.  

Some board members expressed concern about equity among the two cities’ schools. In response, Drati said, “In all of the conversations, it probably took more oxygen talking about this [equity] than any other aspect.” 

He assured board members that both fundraising groups would be held accountable to school board guidelines.

Board president Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein then posed, “What if a Malibu education foundation does not raise the necessary monies to provide the programmings in Malibu?” 

Drati said that conversations would be had both in Santa Monica and Malibu, but that “Malibu has some work to do to try to develop the infrastructure for this work but they feel that they are confident.”

“The loss is going to be, initially, on the front end it seems like in Malibu,” Board Member Oscar de la Torre added. “… But if they’re confident … they’ll raise the money, then I guess that’s part of what self-determination is all about.”

“We’re moving in a direction—an earnest, honest direction—to try to split our district,” Board Vice President Jon Kean said. “And we’re trying to find a way to maintain the integrity of our district right now, knowing that this won’t happen overnight.”

Whatever decision made will impact the 2019-20 school year, as any funds raised in one fiscal year (July 1-June 30) apply to the following year. The action item will be discussed at the school board’s June 28 meeting.