SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation will have to reorganize itself from the top down if it expects to raise enough money to pay for programs at all of the district’s schools.

That was the message that a professional consultant and parents who have been working on the topic for the last six months delivered to the Board of Education at its meeting Thursday.

It came during an update on districtwide fundraising, a controversial policy that the board passed in November 2011 that radically altered the way parents could donate money to public schools.

Rather than pay the salaries of teaching assistants or supporting arts or sciences programs at specific school sites, the districtwide fundraising model restricts parents to buying “stuff,” while entrusting the Education Foundation with raising enough money to pay for staff for programs throughout the district.

The policy is meant to impose some equity on a district that historically saw huge amounts of parent dollars flooding into some schools, while others languished in per pupil parent spending and the amenities it provided.

But if that’s going to work, the Education Foundation is going to need a lot more than a three-member staff, tiny office space and a few fundraising events a year, said Paul Lanning, a consultant with RPR Fundraising, LLP.

Lanning’s recipe for success involves a list of big donors and the institutional capacity to evolve from a community fundraising organization to a professional one.

In the short term, that’s going to mean bringing in fresh board members and a new employee whose expertise is identifying major donors and convincing them to part with their hard-earned cash, as well as keeping lines of communication open with parent groups who are expected to fundraise as-usual until July 2013.

The district also needs a consistent way of recognizing big donors, either with signs, naming rights or other forms of acknowledgment so that people feel inspired to give.

The ultimate goal isn’t to redistribute money that the foundation is already capable of attracting, it’s to increase the amount available through superior fundraising, Lanning said.

“I’m not here to advise you how to rearrange the furniture,” Lanning said. “It has to be about developing new dollars.”

That goal still means that all the players in the district need to be “rowing in the same direction,” Lanning said.

That’s been a struggle in the district, which was very divided over the topic of districtwide fundraising.

Parents at schools that traditionally bring in more money ¬ó up to $2,100 per student at the highest ¬ó objected the most loudly, accusing the district of making each school equally mediocre rather than improving the fundraising abilities of schools that bring in less.

Those politics are still alive and well, Lanning said.

“There’s not enough talk going on with each other,” he said. “There’s lots of talk going on period, and I’ve heard it all, but not with each other.”

Parents and district employees that worked on the Superintendent’s Advisory Group, a coalition responsible for fleshing out various parts of the districtwide fundraising policy, stressed communication as well.

That will be particularly important in the coming year where the Education Foundation and parent groups will be fundraising simultaneously so that the foundation will have money for salaries ready and waiting when the transition takes place in 2013.

Changes will roll out quickly, said Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

By the end of the 2012-13 school year, the advisory group will have worked out a donor acknowledgment program for the board to review, as well as a definition for what kinds of classes, staff or programs the foundation’s money will pay for.

In 2013 and 2014, the district hopes to have the centralized fundraising piece of the puzzle underway, at which point the advisory group will divvy up the money raised in the previous year.

By June 30, 2014, all staff whose salaries currently rely on parent gifts will be switched over to the centralized fundraising.

“Then we’re there,” Lyon said. “From the 2014-15 school year and beyond it’s fully implemented.”

Although some board members seemed to hope for more detail, they all seemed taken by the can-do spirit and enthusiasm of the presenters.

The topic will return to the board in August with more policies and an official contract with the Education Foundation for the work.

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