MALIBU — The Board of Education is expected to take up the contentious issue of district-wide fundraising at its meeting tonight in Malibu, and representatives of various school groups are already lining up for and against the measure.
The item in question, entitled “Consider Revising BP (Board Policy) 3290 — Acceptance of Gifts,” sounds light-weight, but the proposed changes would revolutionize the way PTAs give money to schools and what that money could be used for.
District officials brought the change forward because PTAs were raising drastically different sums of money, which led to inequities in programs and support staff available to kids who attend schools where many of the students come from low-income families.
Rather than allow PTAs to raise unlimited funds and use them to pay staff salaries and benefits, all major fundraising would be directed through the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that would spend the money to secure programs for the whole district rather than individual school sites.
Specific sites would have some control over what they spend that money on, but access to the same level of programming would be available no matter which district school a child attends.
Under the policy, PTAs would no longer be allowed to accept corporate gifts over $2,500, and only the Education Foundation would be allowed to pay for staff or professional development for staff.
If the Board of Education is required to cut personnel, programs or services as a result of budget reductions, only the Education Foundation could accept gifts to replace those jobs, the policy continues.
Leadership from low-income schools bought into the idea quickly, with principals from SMASH and Will Rogers Learning Community expressing their support for the idea, and individual PTA members from Edison and others requesting the move.
Groups from wealthier schools, like Grant, Roosevelt and Franklin elementaries, have signaled their support, with some reservations.
Franklin PTA leadership, Grant PTA and Booster Club leadership and Roosevelt PTA executives and the Booster Club have all agreed that the inequities in elementary school funding lead to gaps in education, and that the district should move quickly to establish a policy or policies that address that problem and its consequences.
However, the groups established nine “considerations” to keep in mind to win their support, including the freedom for school administrations and PTAs to identify staffing needs and priorities and representation for the schools on both the proposed advisory council and the Education Foundation.
They would like to see monetary targets set as a result of a detailed financial analysis to determine how much money would need to be raised to prevent any decrease in services to any district school.
The Education Foundation, which just finished a major restructuring, would need to do it again to create space for a voting member from each elementary school, and add a development officer to lead fundraising.
It would also need to create a strong agreement between the foundation and the district to codify its responsibilities.
If, at the end of a 24-month period, the foundation did not manage to raise the amount of money needed to keep the programs going, the process would need to be reevaluated.
“This has gone through many revisions,” said Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, head of the Roosevelt Booster Club. “In developing the coalition, we have worked hard to hear everyone’s concerns. We look forward to an implementation period that’s democratic and transparent.”
From the get-go, the proposal runs into conflicts with the board policy, particularly when it comes to which organization will pay for professional development for teachers.
Board policy dictates that will remain with the Education Foundation, but the Grant, Franklin, Roosevelt coalition opposes the switch.
“We’re still supportive and out front with that support, but also able to identify the priorities we hope will be discussed,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said. “I hope no one reads it as demands.”
Other groups are less accepting of the concept.
Seth Jacobson, co-chair of the Malibu High Shark Fund and member of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS), held that any change in fundraising methods would make it even harder to fundraise to the ambitious levels set by parent groups.
The Shark Fund is aiming to raise $500,000 to support programs this year, a lofty goal that will be killed by a new fundraising policy, Jacobson said.
“We’re having a hard time right now getting to that goal. As you can imagine, an effort like this would further disrupt the ability to raise money because parents will feel disenfranchised by a program like this,” Jacobson said.
It’s not that there isn’t a way to achieve the district’s goals, Jacobson said, but this is “an ill-conceived approach.”
The district will have another meeting on the subject in Santa Monica on Nov. 17.
If the policy is approved, Superintendent Sandra Lyon will form an advisory group which will help flesh out the basic policy with more detail, including the fate of the existing Equity Fund.
The Equity Fund, established under former Superintendent John Deasy in 2004, was the first attempt to redistribute some money from the wealthier schools. Under that model, 15 percent of each PTA’s expenditures went into a pot which was then redistributed amongst the schools by need.
That account had over $300,000 to distribute this year.