SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education on Thursday agreed to move forward with a vote that could change the face of fundraising, despite calls from parents to wait until the details of the proposal are worked out.

The decision came after more than four hours of public testimony from approximately 100 speakers, a Board of Education record, school district officials said.

The vote, scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 29, will determine whether or not the district moves to a centralized fundraising model and prohibits Parent Teacher Associations from raising money to pay for personnel and programs at school sites instead of just educational supplies and assemblies.

At present, PTAs at each school site provide the district with money specifically to hire staff to bolster the educational programs at each school.

Because of the diversity within the district, fundraising capacity can vary greatly from school to school, leading to substantial inequities that negatively impact the education of socioeconomically disadvantaged students, proponents of the districtwide model say.

Empowering parents to in effect hire staff comes fraught with difficulties, including personnel that don’t fit into the broader picture of the district’s educational mission, said Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

“It’s not necessarily in line with whatever the district’s educational services department piece in,” she said. “The other issue is that you do create permanent employees.”

Instead, large-scale fundraising for staff positions would occur through the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, a 29-year-old nonprofit that already raises money for programs throughout the district.

Under the new proposal, districtwide fundraising will apply first to elementary schools, and later expand to include secondary schools, Lyon said.

The change would alleviate problems with corporate giving and funds committed for existing projects at some high school campuses, Lyon said.

If accepted, Lyon would create an advisory committee by January 2012 to meet with districts who successfully made the transition and study issues and details of implementation.

Suggestions would be presented for consideration by spring 2012, with full implementation expected by fall 2013.

Although the committee will be looking at districts who have had success with the model, SMMUSD and its advisory committee will have room for flexibility.

“There are enough creative minds in Santa Monica and Malibu to come up with something better than other districts,” Lyon said, eliciting applause from the audience which had long since filled up the main chamber and two adjacent rooms.

Speakers fell into four categories: those vehemently opposed to the proposition and want it scrapped, those in favor and urge passage post haste, and those either for or against the basic proposal who want to see the details of the plan before the board launches the policy.

Opponents warned board members that requiring parents to give to the Education Foundation rather than individual schools would have a chilling effect on donations, sapping schools of much-needed funding.

Worse, it could alienate large donors, who could choose to instead send their children to private schools.

The top 6 percent of Malibu fundraisers account for 50 percent of the funds raised, Malibu parents told the board.

Furthermore, the district hadn’t proved its ability to manage the Equity Fund, a smaller pot of money established in 2004 with the idea of creating parity between the schools.

“If we can’t trust you with 15 percent, how can we trust you with 100?” asked parent Charlene Underhill-Miller.

Proponents, like land use attorney and former district parent Chris Harding, framed the question as a matter of civil rights, and one that couldn’t be stalled to plot out the details.

“With respect to the issue of the policy before you, it’s critically important that you vote your core values,” Harding, who is married to school board member Laurie Lieberman, told the board. “This is a progressive city, a progressive school board and this is a core civil rights issue. We didn’t delay in implementing civil rights policy until all the details had been worked out.”

He urged the board to adopt the policy and begin crafting implementation.

Forces within the district were not as supportive.

Cynthia Torres, a member of the district’s Financial Oversight Committee (FOC) and chair of its revenue enhancement ad hoc committee, told board members that the FOC may be “concerned” with a policy change that could impact revenues.

“We are very concerned about the implementation of the proposed policy change and caution the board against adopting a policy without knowing how it would work in practice,” she said. “The details are critically important and need to be fully vetted by knowledgeable stakeholders via an advisory committee that includes school sites and others with experience to offer, including the FOC.”

She also suggested that the timeline for implementation be a full two to three years, and that the district build a contingency fund in case the effort failed.

At midnight, board members took over the conversation.

Vice President Ben Allen questioned Lyon about her proposed timeline.

“(Other districts) did not do it as you’re proposing, and in others they did,” Allen said. “What was your rationale in terms of the timeline proposal?”

It’s momentum, Lyon said.

“The hardest thing is to get moving,” Lyon said. “My feeling and my sense is that to get that directionality going, we would start with policy and change the thinking about how to organize centralized fundraising.”

After adoption is when the community outreach part will take place.

The district isn’t trying to force absolute equality on schools. Even if the district enforces parity of programming on schools, PTA funding will still create differences between the schools, Lyon told board members.

“We’re not eliminating parents’ ability to raise money for individual schools,” Lyon said. “They will have inequities.”

Board members agreed to bring the item to a vote, which will be held at a special meeting on Nov. 29.

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