LINCOLN — After many hours of testimony and discussion Tuesday, the Board of Education unanimously passed a policy prohibiting PTAs from paying for staff salaries, benefits or training, and instead entrusting that duty to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation.
The vote ended a sometimes acrimonious process of public debate and testimony between groups that want to continue paying for staff at individual schools through PTAs and those that want to centralize fundraising to pay for programs for the entire district.
The issue has renewed interest in Malibu to break away and form its own school district.
Those for the policy characterized it as a civil rights issue, that wealthy people should not be able to buy a better education than a low-income person within the same public school district.
Detractors felt that while the goal of parity was a good one, the method would end up destroying valued programs at all schools by alienating the biggest donors and starving the district of private funds.
The fact that the district passed the policy shows that board members aren’t listening, said Craig Foster, co-founder of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools.
“I didn’t hear anything relevant to the possible consequences of this,” Foster said after the meeting. “There were many people who came and spoke about substantive issues.”
Before the vote, Board President Jose Escarce expressed his hope that the policy and the process of fleshing out the details would bring greater unity to the district.
“I strongly and with a great deal of conviction support this policy,” Escarce said. “I do so with tremendous optimism, because I see the incredible positives it could have.”
Supporters stayed past midnight hugging and shaking hands with board members, but the elation was fleeting.
“I feel great about it, but I realize the real work is yet to come,” said Boardmember Laurie Lieberman.
After the vote follows an ambitious timeline, with full implementation in the elementary schools planned for 2013.
By the end of January 2012, Superintendent Sandra Lyon will convene an advisory group of approximately 30 representatives from parent groups, school administrators, bargaining organizations, district personnel and the Financial Oversight Committee to take the broad policy and craft the details.
The group will meet with other districts like those in Manhattan Beach and Palo Alto that have had success with the foundation-based centralized fundraising model to determine best practices as well as failures.
It will craft a contract between the district and the Education Foundation identifying what the foundation’s goals and responsibilities will be, as well as how the foundation needs to reorganize itself to be successful.
Lyon has already floated the idea that the foundation bring on a director of development, meaning a person in charge of cultivating fundraising.
A large component of the arrangement will be identifying programming that should be made available to all schools and figuring out its cost in order to give the foundation a target for fundraising.
Another key point will be the treatment of business donations, which many have said is confusing, and may restrict the ability of parents to get matching donations through their work.
Under the current timeline, the detailed plan will be developed and signed by June 7, 2012, and the contract between the district and Education Foundation be in place by July 2012.
The Education Foundation will then have a window between 2013 and 2014 to take over fundraising for the elementary schools.
That window was a compromise for those, like local attorney Tom Larmore, who felt that the timeline was rushed.
Larmore is involved with the Financial Oversight Committee, and is part of the Community for Excellent Public Schools steering committee. Both organizations have discussed the logistics of moving to districtwide fundraising, he said.
Although he has fears that the policy could result in a loss of funding to the schools if parents become unwilling to give, it’s mainly the 2014 deadline that worries him.
“I hope the Education Foundation reaches the levels it needs to reach in order to take this on,” he said Wednesday. “I’m still concerned about that. Frankly, I’m hopeful that 2014 is long enough to get us there.”
Lyon stressed the importance of deadlines to a process that will involve as many parties and as much debate as this one.
“I think we do need some dates,” she said. “Without, it’s never-ending and will never happen. We can forestall this a long time.”
The vote comes at a difficult time for the unified district, as Malibu Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal pointed out at the start of the meeting.
Rosenthal informed the board that the Malibu City Council had put its name behind a petition process that could end in Malibu schools seceding from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
She asked for the board’s support.
“Agendize this quickly so that we can begin working together,” she said.