DISTRICT HDQTRS — Arguably the most powerful force in Santa Monica politics announced its support for one of the most controversial topics before the school board — districtwide fundraising.

The steering committee for Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) voted unanimously to get behind the districtwide fundraising proposal at its meeting Saturday.

“SMRR’s platform states that SMRR supports equity in educational programming to achieve social and economic justice for all students,” organization leaders wrote in a press release.

The announcement comes days before the Board of Education holds a second meeting on Nov. 17 focused on the issue.

District officials began pushing forward the concept of districtwide fundraising to address the large achievement gap between minority students and their white and Asian counterparts.

Fundraising, now handled by the local Parent Teacher Associations, varies from school to school based on the ability of the parents to pitch in both time and money to make events a success.

It’s led to a disparity in programming between the schools, with the highest grossing school spending an extra $2,100 per student while the lowest spends $65, according to a report by Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

The proposed fundraising model would prohibit PTAs from spending money on personnel or trainings, and instead transfer that authority to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation over the course of two years.

That money would be split between the schools equally so that each school in the district has access to what Lyon calls “premium programs,” or programs above and beyond what state and federal funding provide.

Over that two year transitional period, Lyon would convene an advisory committee made up of Education Foundation members, PTA members and other stakeholders to work out the details of the plan including what constitutes a “premium program.”

PTAs would still provide funding during those two years to prevent any drop in services.

SMRR leadership believes that the new model will ensure all students have access to high quality education programs that aren’t provided for in the state budget, said SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman.

“The time seems to be right that the school board and community are coming together to say that we should give our students the best education available,” Hoffman said.

SMRR’s endorsements carry weight in Santa Monica elections — six of the seven school board members, with the exception of Nimish Patel, were endorsed by SMRR in their campaigns.

The majority of members on the Santa Monica City Council and Rent Control Board also received SMRR support.

School Boardmember Oscar de la Torre told the Daily Press that SMRR’s announcement was along party lines given the organization’s platform in favor of equity and equal opportunity.

de la Torre received the endorsement of SMRR’s leadership in his last school board run.

Still, he said, his constituents are all Malibu and Santa Monica residents with children in SMMUSD.

“More than 80 percent of students are residents of the city of Santa Monica or city of Malibu,” de la Torre said. “Therefore, our obligation is to those students and their parents without regard to political organization.”

The heavy SMRR influence and the organization’s position on districtwide fundraising didn’t come as a surprise, said Seth Jacobson, a member of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools.

Given the momentum behind the measure, the group’s members want to raise awareness about districtwide fundraising and get a hand in shaping it rather than work to stop it.

“The board is going to pass this thing,” Jacobson said. “It’s just a matter of coming up with what we think are reasonable suggestions and alternatives to implementation.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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