SMMUSD HDQTRS — District officials presented a plan Thursday that details how they will spend money they hope to receive through a new centralized fundraising model and it includes boosting reading instruction, staff training and reducing class sizes in local schools.

The goal is to raise $4 million annually.

Under the plan, $2.5 million would go for districtwide student instruction and class size reductions in elementary schools while the remaining $1.5 million would fund teacher training and trained instructional aides for the classrooms.

Schools would have some flexibility in the kinds of teacher training and classes provided for their students to retain or build upon existing programs at the schools through “stretch grants.”

The money — which the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation is still raising — will be used to bolster student learning across the board while giving schools the ability to target training dollars where they’re most needed, said Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

“A lot of good thinking, hard thinking, got us to where we are,” Lyon said.

The plan represents a final step in a nearly two-year process to overhaul a long-standing practice in which boosters paid for special classes and extra instruction for schools, leaving a disparity between schools with richer parents and those located in lower-income neighborhoods in the district.

The Board of Education voted in November of 2011 to take the power to fundraise for staff costs — like arts classes or teacher training — out of the hands of parents and make it the charge of the Education Foundation, while allowing parents to pay for “stuff” like technology or field trips.

A group of over 40 parents, district officials and other interested parties got together over the course of months to determine how the centralized funding, once attained, would be spent.

The result is the plan unveiled Thursday, which takes much of the focus away from “extras” and puts it squarely behind support for fundamentals like reading and training for teachers, something that has suffered as millions left the budget from state cuts.

Roughly $1.5 million will provide 10 literacy coaches for elementary schools and reduce class sizes for kids in kindergarten, first, second and third grades from 30 to 25 for every teacher.

It will also provide extra help for reading and math at the middle and high schools, and provide new software to track progress for all elementary school students and those that need extra help at the middle and high schools.

The plan puts nothing behind math instruction, despite a recent focus on the importance of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, touted by the district.

District officials hope that gap will be filled in the future, but didn’t want to ask for more than $4 million from the community in the first year of the program, Lyon said.

Another $1 million is slotted for highly-trained instructional aides, who will go above and beyond clerical tasks like making copies and instead focus on teaching in the classroom.

The money will pay for a certain number of hours per day, based on how many students a school has and need at the school site, Lyon said.

“For some schools, this means more hours than they currently have. For others it’s less,” Lyon said.

None of that funding will go toward the middle or high schools.

Those schools will get extra cash in discretionary funding that can be spent on teacher training, with Santa Monica High School getting $20,000 to pay for extras for teachers. Middle schools will get $15,000, while elementary schools get $10,000 per school — assuming the Ed Foundation can raise enough cash.

Similarly, all district schools will get money based on their student population in the form of stretch grants. Elementary schools can work with a private organization called P.S. Arts to get relatively low-cost arts classes, chosen off of a menu of options.

Every one of those schools will get 50-minute arts classes once a week for 30 weeks, Lyon said, and students in grades three, four and five will continue to get music classes paid for by the district.

Middle and high schools will also receive stretch grants, which they can spend on programs tailored to the site.

 

Some schools to get less money

 

Although some schools, notably those whose Parent Teacher Associations did not raise large amounts of cash in the past, will come out ahead under the new formula, Lyon acknowledged that others will not.

Point Dume Marine Science Academy, for instance, had a particularly active group of parents who raised $2,100 per child in extra funding compared to $65 a head at Will Rogers Learning Community.

Those schools would have the opportunity to raise more money for their sites, assuming the $4 million was raised districtwide, Lyon said.

How much extra they will be able to raise hasn’t been decided yet.

Advocates for Samohi, the district’s largest school, also raised red flags, Lyon said.

“There is concern that Samohi is not getting enough. I would say that’s true,” she told board members.

The original plan was meant to involve kindergarten through eighth grade in this round, with high schools getting involved later on in the planning process. That changed when Paul Lanning, a consultant for the school district, suggested that every school get a piece of the action upfront, Lyon said.

The plan was met with acclaim from the Board of Education, and concern with rumors that some individuals in the school community planned to “go out on their own” and raise money outside the context of the plan.

Whether or not the Education Foundation would be able to raise the full $4 million required by the plan also came up.

Publicizing contingency plans at this stage of the game could be counterproductive, Lyon said.

“What we need to do right now is shoot for $4 million,” she said. “Then it will be an appropriate time to have that conversation. Right now, it’s a deficit model. We need to focus on the positive.”

Board members seemed largely hopeful, and excited to see the plan go from development to action.

“Hopefully this plan will address some of the needs that this community has been asking for for many years,” said Boardmember Maria Leon Vazquez.

 

ashley@smdp.com