The local Board of Education was forced to make another tough budgetary decision after the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation fell short of its annual fundraising goal.
The foundation raised $2.03 million for school programs in a cycle that ended June 30, well short of the $2.5 million it was asked to collect over the last 12 months.
After about an hour of testy deliberation, the school board last month voted to make up for the nearly $500,000 deficit by using $300,000 in funds tied to the Local Control and Accountability Plan and roughly $200,000 from the school district’s general fund.
The board’s heated debate came as district stakeholders continue adjusting to the recently implemented centralized fundraising model, which was opposed by many Malibu families. Ongoing litigation over chemical testing at Malibu schools and efforts to create a separate Malibu district have also hampered the foundation’s efforts.
“We’re a school district with lots of distractions,” SMMEF board president Kathleen Rawson said. “We would be remiss not to acknowledge that these obstacles are hindering some of our fundraising success.”
Giving fell slightly from the $2.36 million raised in last year’s cycle, which lasted 17 months so the foundation could align its campaign with the school district calendar.
Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said it wouldn’t be right to make reductions to SMMEF-funded programs even as the district faces a $10-million shortfall heading into 2016-17. He said cuts affecting classrooms should be avoided.
“I see this as a larger project that we have committed to,” he said. “This is what we promised.”
Board president Laurie Lieberman, who criticized Malibu for not pulling its weight in this year’s campaign, countered by noting that the district has developed a history of backfilling fundraising gaps with general-fund money.
“How many times can we do this?” she said. “You can’t live on a credit card forever.”
Money raised by SMMEF will support arts education for elementary students, instructional assistants and enrichment grants for all district schools next year. The discretionary grants often go towards STEM activities and performing arts, among other programs.
“We are so proud to be the vehicle for thousands of committed donors in our community to support vital staff and programs in Santa Monica-Malibu schools,” SMMEF executive director Linda Greenberg said in a statement. “Their donations will provide excellent, equitable educational opportunities for all of our SMMUSD students.”
Nearly 2,800 donors contributed to the campaign, including 2,285 parents. That’s up slightly from the 2,260 parents who gave in 2014-15 but well below the 2,517 who participated two years ago. Parents this year totaled more than $1.29 million in donations, averaging $558 per household.
More than one-third of families participated in this year’s SMMEF fundraiser, a slight improvement on the 30.3 percent who donated in 2014-15.
But rates of giving among district employees dipped across the board. Management participation declined to 64.8 percent from 74.4 percent a year earlier, teacher involvement in the campaign dropped to 30.4 percent from 33.9 percent in 2014-15 and classified staff participation fell from 11.2 percent to 9.3 percent.
Large donations grew considerably in the recent cycle, according to foundation data. There were 65 donors who contributed $5,000 or more, accounting for more than a half-million dollars overall. Last year’s cadre of donors at that giving level had 42 members and about $315,000 in contributions.
Corporate partners played a significant role in the campaign, with 37 donors chipping in a total of $317,582. (The count was higher in 2014-15, but that extended cycle included two Pier Party events.)
“SMMEF has forged partnerships with community businesses and stakeholders, strengthening its efforts to make public education in Santa Monica and Malibu truly outstanding,” Greenberg said.
This year’s campaign kicked off with the foundation’s inaugural Pledge Days drive, which began Sept. 28 and wrapped up Oct. 9. An anonymous $100,000 contribution fueled an initiative that collected $439,950, according to SMMEF officials.
More than 400 people attended the inaugural SMMEF wine auction, which raised more than $115,000. The April 17 event featured food and beverage tastings as well as live, silent and online auctions.
The wine auction “will grow leaps and bounds” in the comings years, Rawson said.
The campaign closed with the community matching a $200,000 contribution from the Franklin Elementary School PTA. Half of the gift was designated for the fundraiser, while the other half was allocated to the SMMEF endowment. The donation sparked controversy at the Montana Avenue campus, where some parents felt blindsided by the site PTA’s large cash reserve.
That was one of several obstacles during the campaign.
“While implementing the School District’s centralized fundraising policy has not been without its challenges,” Greenberg said, “we join with the District in their continued commitment to equitable access for all children and look forward to raising even more money next year to provide a stellar education for our students.”