SMMUSD HDQTRS — The second the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation fundraiser ended on Jan. 31, another one began.

The Vision for Student Success, an initiative managed by the foundation to fund learning programs evenly across the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, brought in $3.2 million over 15 months. The Board of Education covered the $800,000 gap, allowing the Ed Foundation to reach its $4 million goal.

But on Feb. 1, the fundraising total dropped back to zero with 12 months to raise next year’s scratch. With a yearlong fundraiser ahead, school officials, board members, and the public discussed the ways the program was a success and the ways it could be improved at Thursday’s school board meeting.

Ed Foundation Executive Director Linda Gross pointed to many of the highlights.

A third of all the cash raised, or over $1 million, was from new donors — a good sign. More than a quarter of the total cash came from parents. They scored nearly 3,000 total donors and their cash total was up 700 percent from last year.

Even the Santa Monica High School football team, a group that Gross said has a hard time raising money for its own sport, gave $1,000. Twelve of the 16 Parent Teacher Associations donated cash, totaling $76,000. Olympic High School, which is comprised of students who have struggled academically, had 100 percent participation from staff and parents. Will Rogers Elementary, a Title 1 school with a higher percentage of students living in poverty, also had 100 percent participation from parents.

Numbers were lower at the Malibu schools, where some parents have resisted donating because they were opposed to a switch to the centralized fundraising model, which inhibited their ability to give money directly to their child’s school.

There is tension between Malibu parents and the district. Some parents would like to form their own school district and feel they are not properly represented. Currently no school board member resides in Malibu.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, one Malibu parent made the point that the Vision for Student Success is hurting her child’s school.

Webster Elementary School — which had 18.8 percent family participation, just 2.6 percent lower than Santa Monica High School — will lose more than half of its teacher’s aid hours under the current funding formula, said Stacy Rouse.

In the past, Webster parents could donate directly to the school, raising enough cash to fund 29 aid hours a day, Rouse said. Under the new plan, they will get 12 hours of aid assistance per day.

Rouse asked the board to fund up to $80,000 for all schools that can prove they lost programs or staffing.

“These are instructional aids working directly for the students in the class helping the teacher so this affects students,” she said. “They get less individualized or group instruction time. It affects our teachers. It affects the aids because this is a loss of income and jobs.”

Raquel Vallejo, a parent from Will Rogers, told the board that no exceptions should be made for schools that had low showings during the fundraiser.

“To reward those who obviously didn’t attempt to do what (Will Rogers) did, would diminish our efforts,” she said. “Surely schools should not be permitted to pick and choose which parts of (the Vision for Student Success) they can be a part of to the detriment of the entire district.”

Vallejo said that she’d heard other parents spreading rumors that Will Rogers reached 100 percent participation by making $1 donations. They raised more than $5,000 in total, she said.

“In order to reach over $5,000, every family would need to give over $15 a piece over 320 families,” she said. “The idea that there were $1 contributions from 320 families is pretty ridiculous.”

Board member Laurie Lieberman, who will serve as the board’s fundraiser liaison this year, expressed sympathy for all parties but said that the two groups need to learn to communicate.

“We’re not going to put behind us everything that’s come before but we have to find a way to move forward in a positive way and learn from this year and from the things that people are saying,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s very emotional.”

The Ed Foundation has made clear that higher levels of participation are key to the success of this year’s fundraiser. Lieberman said that it’s only going to happen if they can bridge the gap.

“We have to find a way to recognize a lot of the realities, share them with each other, to build some kind of dialogue and conversation among the different parts of the district,” she said.

Lieberman also wants to see the fundraising message simplified to make it easier to communicate.

The Pier Party, the Ed Foundation’s signature fundraiser, will be held on the Santa Monica Pier on April 27. To learn more visit or call (310) 396-4557.

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