The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Equity Fund is the latest flap to hit our schools. The scheme was drafted by former Superintendent John Deasy to help close the achievement gap between rich and poorer schools and to equalize the academic playing field for all. The Board of Education approval came in early 2004.

The program establishes a voluntary 15 percent surcharge, or tax, on monetary donations to schools, activities and programs. The money collected from the Deasy Tax is put into a common pot or Equity Fund and redistributed by the board using a weighted formula based on need. “Scholarships or small in-kind donations, like a computer, would be exempt from the collective pot, but large donations, like money for a playground, would not,” Deasy said at the time.

The net result of this socialistic policy is that well-off schools subsidize schools with lesser resources. The thinking is that students attending under-supported schools will benefit from the infusion of cash. But, nobody talks about how removing resources from even well-endowed schools may hurt their students.

In essence, it’s comparable to allowing total strangers to take $15 out of your $100 donation to your favorite charity and siphon it off to another charity of their own choosing without even your OK.

Within months of its implementation, a major contributor to John Adams Middle School’s music and arts programs withdrew its support. Thousands of dollars in annual revenue were lost. The contributor informed JAMS that they were only interested in supporting music and arts programs, and if that couldn’t be accomplished, they would walk no matter how worthwhile other programs were. How many other contributions have been lost for similar reasons is unknown.

A report presented to the board on Oct. 15 stated that a total of $362,232 had been contributed to the fund in fiscal year 2008/2009 — the bulk of the money coming from various PTA organizations.

A lot of parents are very angry about the district’s new get tough policy on collecting the controversial Deasy Tax. Postings on Malibu High School parents’ Yahoo site discuss withholding money to the PTA, but say it’s OK to give hard goods to skirt the gift fund.

Three Malibu schools contributed nothing to the fund in 2007/2008 but received money from it. People are asking when these schools will make up for the year they contributed nothing?

Multiple sources tell me that Chief Academic Officer Sally Chou said the district cannot force schools to give, however, she was involved with a new, punitive policy of curtailing field trips unless contributions are made. I asked Chou and she responded, “I did not single-handedly make the decision to cut off all field trips since my job was to monitor the implementation of the Equity Fund.” In a subsequent e-mail, she emphasized, “I did not make that decision [to cut field trips].”

The Santa Monica Band Parents Association hadn’t paid the controversial Deasy Tax because they thought it didn’t apply to them. Their May 4 meeting minutes note, “The current superintendent insists on compliance as per district regulations.” After a number of SMBPA board members resigned, replacement board members have promised to pay up for the entire five years.

The Deasy Tax should be jettisoned. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is just bad business and divisive.

What’s faster, trains or busses?

Friends4ExpoTransit cheerleader Darrell Clark and I disagree on which is better: mass transit (Expo Light Rail) on its own, exclusive right-of-way, or operating in the middle of crowded city streets?

Clark wrote in a letter to the editor two weeks ago chiding me, “How would trains following regular traffic signals in their own dedicated lane cause ‘lengthy traffic delays’ at intersections any more than current buses do?

In addition to requiring removal of two traffic lanes on Colorado Avenue, 270-foot long, Expo Light Rail trains running at street level will block all cross streets intersections for 40 to 45 seconds. With traffic signal priority for trains, there will be lengthy red cycles and long delays on cross streets intersecting with Colorado (or any light rail cross street). Unsignalized intersections will experience similar delays. A bus can cross an intersection in four or five seconds — far less time than the lengthy delay required by a train.

With two dozen Expo trains per hour during rush hour, traffic will be gridlocked for many blocks on either side of the Expo Line, especially during peak periods. Even the Expo Construction Authority acknowledges negative traffic impacts. Therefore, Clarke’s statement that Expo “trains won’t create ‘lengthy traffic delays’ at intersections any more than current buses do” is utter nonsense.

Clarke and other transit advocates would do the public a better service by being honest and advocate for completely grade-separated routes so trains don’t interfere with existing street traffic and can operate totally independent of clogged surface streets and in complete safety.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.