What do you call a $4-million fundraising drive to support staff and enrichment programs in local schools?

As the district school board on April 16 prepared to review the controversial campaign, which put the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation in charge of a centralized effort, Supt. Sandra Lyon noted that “Vision for Student Success” was nowhere to be found on the title page of her digital presentation.

That name had been given to the fundraiser in an attempt to generate support among parents and members of the community, but Lyon said it has instead led to more confusion.

“People don‚Äôt see it as connected to the ed foundation,” she said. “We‚Äôre going to get back to ‚ÄòSMMEF-funded programs‚Äô as the terminology.”

Whatever it’s called — and whatever school officials offered as possible reasons — the fundraising effort is struggling to gain momentum as its June 30 deadline approaches. Officials have raised about $2.06 million in the 17-month campaign, meaning the foundation would need to bring in an average of more than $27,000 per day over the next 10 weeks to hit its target.

The donations are used to pay for literacy coaches, instructional aides and other support staff as well as arts programs and other enrichment activities.

The school board is now considering significant changes to the fundraising initiative, which it discussed at length at its recent meeting. Although the board approved a one-time allocation of $800,000 to buoy the previous fundraising cycle, officials have said that kind of safety net won’t be available this time around.

Several budget scenarios will be prepared for the board to consider at a May 4 study session. Staff will be prioritized even if there’s a fundraising shortfall, Lyon said.

Lyon asked board members about cuts they would consider, SMMEF-funded programs they would potentially move into the general fund and general expenses that could be covered by the education foundation.

Board member Craig Foster said he doesn’t want to make cuts but added that he thinks the district’s annual fundraising capacity is about $2 million. He suggested setting that figure as next year’s goal and moving $2 million in SMMEF-funded programs into the general fund.

Several board members recommended using general funds to pay for professional development and literacy coaches — currently SMMEF-supported — although Lyon noted that could lead to cutbacks in other areas.

Board president Laurie Lieberman said the annual fundraiser should support programs that excite parents. She added that it’s been difficult to rally middle and high school parents, at least in part because there’s a perception that elementary school students benefit more.

District families have raised 45 percent of the money in the current drive, SMMEF executive director Linda Greenberg said. The remainder has come from community members (29 percent), corporations (8 percent), foundations (8 percent) and other sources (10 percent).

About 28 percent of district families and 24 percent of staff have contributed to the fundraiser, Greenberg said.

“There‚Äôs a general belief that these programs have a positive impact on student achievement,” said Evan Bartelheim, the district‚Äôs director of assessment, research and evaluation, noting the results of numerous surveys. “I don‚Äôt think there was any program that was funded that didn‚Äôt have a strong impact.”

Kristina Schauer, a SMMEF co-chair at Franklin Elementary School, said parents are still learning how the new fundraising system works.

“The expectation that we‚Äôd raise $4 million in the first year (of implementation) was super-aspirational, and that‚Äôs not going to happen,” she said. “It‚Äôs going to take time for people to understand educational funding in California. … As hard as it is, I really do think we can make it. But it‚Äôs going to take more time.”

Added Greenberg: “We keep sending the message out. We‚Äôre not done with this campaign.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@smdp.com or on Twitter.

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