This Tuesday night, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education is going to make an important decision. On their agenda is a policy that has come to be known as “districtwide fundraising.” This proposal will restrict the control Parent Teacher Associations have over the funds they raise. PTAs are administered at the local level and when a PTA group at a particular school partners together with the teachers and administers to raise funds for a specific purpose at that school, they have the freedom to allocate these extra funds in any way they choose.

For clarity, let’s take Franklin Elementary in Santa Monica as an example. Franklin is famous for its fundraising prowess. This is because the school is located smack dab in an affluent neighborhood and many of the local residents send their children there.

So when the Franklin Elementary PTA decides to have a fundraiser to buy playground equipment or to provide funds to hire a music teacher, they usually get the job done. This is because the parents of the students who go to Franklin are highly invested in the school. They’re invested because they love their children and they want their child’s educational experience to be the best possible.

There is nothing wrong with this natural impulse. As a pediatrician in this community, I can assure my readers that all parents, with very, very few exceptions, want the “best” for their children. They don’t always define “best” in the same way, but parents care deeply for the welfare of their children and they will do almost anything they can to see their children prosper socially and academically.

The proposal that will be voted on this Tuesday night is, at its core, contrary to this normal, parental inclination. What districtwide fundraising seeks to do is sharply curtail local parental control at their child’s school. The school board is effectively telling the parents of this community to take a hike. The Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, a centralized board that will replace local PTA decision makers, will help administer these pooled funds in a “more just and fair manner.” Or at least that’s the propaganda line. Of course we all understand that Big Brother is wiser than mere parents.

Why is this happening? Here’s the answer. There are people in this community who share the same utopian and socialistic thoughts that the Occupy Wall Street forces believe; namely that inequality, in any form, is wrong and that something must be done to “level the playing field.” Centralized allocation of pooled monies is needed because schools like Franklin have the unfair ability to “outpace” other schools in fundraising. This kind of thinking is straight out of Marxist ideology … “from each, according to his abilities; to each, according to his need.” It sounds great in theory, but it never works in practice.

Let’s face some facts. Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica will always excel when it comes to PTA fundraising. But this does not necessarily guarantee academic success, which is hopefully the ultimate desire of the Board of Education. Stable families that support and value education, individual perseverance and a student’s character prevail in the end. New computers and playground equipment are all well and good, but there are plenty of affluent children who have squandered their opportunities at the best public (or private schools) and there are plenty of examples of “poor kids” from less-than-perfect schools who have excelled wonderfully.

The Board of Education must understand that there is no need for this kind of forced social engineering in our community, but if they do persist in passing districtwide fundraising, they risk several outcomes, none of which are good.

First is the real possibility that Malibu will break from Santa Monica and form its own independent school district. This is not a hypothetical consideration. The issue is being hotly debated in Malibu at this very moment.

Second will be the disheartening and disenfranchising of those members of the PTA who work hard to bring excellence to our local schools. My hunch is PTA fundraising will plunge across the district and that the centralized Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation will not be able to make up the difference.

Third and final, those families who have means have other options when it comes to their children’s education. The Board of Education must realize that some of these wealthier families will leave the public school system over this policy.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education needs to send a clear message to the families of this community. The freedom to exert local control is always best. Forced centralization always breeds anger, apathy and failure.

Robert C. Hamilton is a pediatrician in Santa Monica.

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