SMMUSD HDQTRS — The committee that will shape a controversial fundraising policy for the school district will get started on its work this month amidst concerns that its unwieldy size and difficult subject matter will disrupt plans to enact the policy by 2013.

Parents, school administrators, business leaders and union members comprise the 32-member team, which will grow to include additional site principals, said Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

It has one member from each Parent Teacher Association as well as heads of the Santa Monica and Malibu chambers of commerce and district officials.

The committee’s first meeting will be held Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. in the district office, and will be open to the public.

The committee, which formed over winter break, faces a large task: Filling in the details of a policy direction given by the Board of Education in November that fundamentally alters the way schools pay for programs and extras in order to increase parity between schools.

That policy, widely known as districtwide fundraising, involves taking fundraising for programs and staff out of the hands of parent groups and placing it under the purview of the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, a nonprofit group.

Although the board passed it in concept, and attached an ambitious timeline of full implementation for elementary schools by the 2013-14 school year, many of the “how” details have yet to be fleshed out.

That was left to Lyon and her committee, which includes parents and interest groups with very different opinions on how this should all shake out.

A big piece of the puzzle will be defining a “premium program.”

The phrase was widely used during the three meetings on districtwide fundraising, and largely taken to mean a menu of class options that different school sites could choose from to enrich their academics in unique ways, avoiding a “lock step” approach.

What it means, and what amount of money it will take to pay for it, is at the heart of the committee’s work, Lyon said.

The first step in that is identifying what each school already has. With widely divergent levels of additional fundraising by PTAs, some schools can afford to spend an additional $2,100 per student while others can spend only $65.

“A big piece will be principals and Ed Services doing a comprehensive analysis of what we do have at each school, not core instructional programs, but programs supported by PTAs and categorical funding,” Lyon said.

Categorical funding is money from the state and federal government that targets schools with high populations of low-income students in order to raise their academic achievement.

Once the slate of programming at each school has been identified, the discussion with parents on what needs to stay at each school, and how much money it will take to keep programs there, will begin.

That leads to the critical step of ensuring that the Education Foundation is capable of raising that much money.

In previous years, the foundation brought in $400,000 on average to pay for districtwide programming. In 2010, the board gave it sole control over the Save Our Schools campaign, which garnered $1.6 million in only 60 days.

The committee will be entrusted with drafting a contract between the district and the Education Foundation spelling out the responsibilities of each.

One point, brought up by several parents in public meetings, was bringing in a director of development to oversee fundraising efforts at the foundation.

The Education Foundation will have until 2013 to prove that it can raise the money needed to support the schools. In the meantime, PTAs will continue fundraising as usual.

To accomplish the work, the committee will be extremely dependent on sub-committees, with the larger group meeting only once a month to begin, Lyon said.

“It’s an unwieldy group to move forward,” she said. “We want to use the big group for delving into matter and choosing the right issues. The subcommittees can then dig a little deeper.”

Seth Jacobson, a committee member from Malibu and critic of districtwide fundraising, is optimistic that the system described will force the large group to some consensus, but felt the timeline wasn’t realistic.

“That’s very fast, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson chairs the Shark Fund, a booster club for Malibu High School, and is also a member of the newly formed Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, or AMPS.

Like many Malibu residents, and Santa Monica residents whose children attend wealthier schools on the northern end of town, Jacobson hopes to create a policy that will maintain existing programs at wealthier schools in a “raise all boats” spirit.

“We in Malibu are all on the same page that this has to be done in a deliberative and comprehensive way that doesn’t alienate schools and doesn’t pit Santa Monica against Malibu,” Jacobson said. “It’s all about building consensus.”

That’s going to mean building trust, which may have been damaged in the sometimes vitriolic series of public meetings over the issue. The same openness also forced communication between parent groups which wasn’t there before, Jacobson said.

“That can’t be forgotten,” he said.

The first meeting will determine the different subcommittees needed and will determine a meeting schedule for the remainder of the year.

Those meetings will be open to the public, and the district is also thinking about creating a website to post agendas and any “deliverables” that may come out of the sessions in terms of papers or presentations, Lyon said.

At this point, there is no budget for the process, although that will eventually become necessary in order to pay for travel expenses for members of other education foundations to share their experiences.

The district is not considering the use of consultants, Lyon said.

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