Malibu High School (File photo)

Malibu families have appeared reluctant to contribute to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation’s annual fundraiser, according to agency data.

Participation in the current campaign was just 8.3 percent at Malibu High School as of last month and similarly poor at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School (14.2), Juan Cabrillo Elementary School (15.2) and Webster Elementary School (17.2).

Low rates of giving in Malibu come as little surprise to residents of the enclave city who feel increasingly isolated in a school district they feel has neglected them and ignored their concerns.

Cynthia Kesselman said the Malibu community feels slighted by the district’s handling of chemical cleanup at the city’s high school, arguing its actions have “soured many in Malibu on contributing” to fundraising efforts.

“Maybe they should consider Malibu parents are voting with their pocketbooks,” she wrote in a letter to the Malibu Times. “Why contribute to a district that spends millions of dollars on attorneys and consultants?”

Beth Lucas expressed similar dissatisfaction, arguing it’s difficult to support a district that has paid millions of dollars for legal fees and consultants since the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls at Malibu High School.

“The SMMUSD should stop threatening to cut key enrichment programs while syphoning money … to pay for their own liability protection and PR,” she wrote in a letter to the Malibu Times. “Parents (would) be more inclined to donate if the SMMUSD was both fiscally responsible and took the utmost in precaution to put children’s health and safety first.”

Karen Farrer, Malibu High School’s PTA president, said some families are leaving the district or considering private schools at least in part because of the current fundraising system.

“Historically, Malibu schools have been extraordinarily high achieving, with extremely high levels of volunteerism and local financial support,” reads a letter signed by Farrer and several other Malibu parents. “These resources, along with higher enrollments of local children, will quickly return if the board hears and empowers us as we work to improve our schools.”

SMMEF executive director Linda Greenberg said the foundation’s message “isn’t resonating” in Malibu, acknowledging the community’s complaints. “But I do feel strongly that this process is going to take some time to transition and become part of the culture.”

Just 16.9 percent of families at Santa Monica High School, the district’s largest campus, had contributed to the SMMEF fundraiser as of last month.

Greenberg said the low participation was due in part to how the funds are spent.

“I do recognize that the goals that we’re fundraising for benefit the elementary level more than the high school level,” she said, adding that the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee has discussed adding programs at district middle and high schools.

Greenberg also said high school parents are more likely to donate to their children’s activity booster clubs than to SMMEF.

“It’s different at the high school level,” she said. “If your kid’s in choir, you’re giving to choir.”

Olympic High School and Santa Monica Alternative School House have the highest rates of participation in the district fundraising campaign.

Close to 80 percent of families at the district’s continuation site had donated to SMMEF as of April 23, and 72 percent of families at SMASH had contributed.

“Their principals and their staff have made a concerted effort to message to their parent community that it’s important to donate,” Greenberg said. “Both Olympic and SMASH have done that well. And they see great benefit.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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