If parents in Malibu are trying to make a statement, then it’s pretty clear they’re not satisfied with the local school district.

Families upset with Santa Monica-Malibu school district over a variety of issues in that city have shown sustained resistance to donating to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation’s annual fundraising campaign, according to data in a May 5 report to the Board of Education.

SMMUSD families have raised about 42 percent of the money in this year’s drive, which wraps up June 30, and nearly one-third of families in the district have contributed to the campaign.

But participation is sagging dramatically in Malibu, data show. Less than 12 percent of Malibu families have donated to the SMMEF campaign, whereas more than 34 percent of their Santa Monica peers have contributed.

The foundation is still more than $700,000 shy of reaching its budgeted goal of $2.5 million, which goes towards arts education and instructional assistants as well as a variety of other activities, including science, technology, engineering and math programming.

“The district is not in a position to backfill the fundraising gap every year,” SMMEF board president Kathleen Rawson said. “We know the ed foundation is not getting support from Malibu. In the meantime, we’ve got kids in the classroom and these programs are important. It’s so unfortunate. The lack of support for the ed foundation is coming on the backs of the kids.”

Many parents in Malibu have expressed fierce opposition to the school district’s recently implemented centralized fundraising system, and they showcased their disapproval in last year’s fundraising cycle. That 17-month initiative generated $2.36 million, well short of its $4-million goal.

And in the current campaign, which has about seven weeks left, Malibu families have seemingly taken an even more antagonistic stand. Of the roughly $1.2 million generated by SMMUSD families so far, about 95 percent ($1.14 million) has come from Santa Monica residents. Malibu parents have chipped in just 5 percent ($65,000).

Malibu parents remain upset about the centralized fundraising model, which pools money for certain programs and distributes it across the district.

Adding to their dissatisfaction with SMMUSD is the ongoing legal battle over chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu schools. The district has spent millions of dollars on consultants and legal fees since the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls at the Malibu High School campus about two and a half years ago.

Environmental concerns have fueled an effort by Malibu activists to separate from SMMUSD and create their own school district.

“It’s true that the Malibu families have had their concerns with the district,” Rawson said. “The reality is the lack of giving is probably connected to those issues and, unfortunately, what it’s going to do is cause cuts in programs that all these schools love.”

Rawson said it’s up to Malibu parents to prevent cuts in programming for their own kids and for other children in the district.

“Malibu has the opportunity to save the day,” she said. “We’re tied up in a political mess, and it’s a huge disadvantage, but we have to work together on this piece. While we work out the political issues, we need to take care of the kids in the classroom.”


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