After a decidedly bumpy journey, the fundraising drive for local public schools came to a rest June 30.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation amassed about $2,365,000 through its recently implemented and hotly debated centralized funding system, which this year supported arts and enrichment programs as well as academic support staff and professional development.

The figure is considered preliminary and will not be final until after further accounting, SMMEF executive director Linda Greenberg said.

Regardless, the campaign fell well short of its $4-million goal despite lasting 17 months, an extended cycle that resulted from the foundation’s desire to align its calendar with the school year.

It became a roller coaster of an endeavor for the district’s nonprofit fundraising arm, which tried to educate the community about the new system and what it pays for while battling low participation rates and opposition from disgruntled Malibu parents.

“Shifting to a centralized fundraising model takes time, but overall I think the programmatic changes that were implemented for every single child in the district are compelling,” Greenberg said. “This was the first year ever that every single child had access to amazing enrichment programs and instructional assistants. That’s powerful. Regardless of the numbers, that’s a huge accomplishment.”

At John Muir Elementary School, for example, money raised through SMMEF supported 30 weeks of visual arts programming for K-5 students, 16 hours of instructional assistant staff time per day and a full-time literacy coach, according to the foundation. It also paid for teacher access to online educational tools and conference attendance as well as music, reading and science activities.

“For many of our schools, this is the first time we’re getting instructional assistants, art programs, science and professional development,” said Lupe Ibarra-Smith, chair of the district’s advisory committee on English learners and a PTA executive at John Muir. “This equity in programs helps all our students.”

But the fundraising efforts came with significant challenges.

The campaign began Feb. 1, 2014, as the Vision for Student Success, a name that was meant to rally the community but instead created widespread confusion about the foundation and how it supports the district. Officials have recently referred to the initiative as supporting “SMMEF-funded programs.”

Meanwhile, donation rates sagged noticeably in Malibu, where residents have repeatedly criticized the district for its centralized fundraising model and its handling of chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu High School. An effort to split the district into Santa Monica and Malibu factions has gained momentum.

“The issue of separation and environmental concerns are at the top of their minds — and rightfully so,” Greenberg said. “I don’t think Malibu is participating as fully as they might if those were not issues.”

Going forward, SMMEF will be responsible for raising money to support arts programming and instructional assistants in elementary schools as well as enrichment grants for students in all grades. Exactly how the grant money is spent is up to school-site councils, according to Greenberg.

As suggested by Supt. Sandra Lyon, literacy coaches and professional development — previously funded by the foundation — will now be covered through the district’s general fund.

The district is now expecting a $2.5-million contribution from SMMEF in each of its next two 12-month campaigns.

“This transition has taken time,” Greenberg said. “It’s taken parents and the community time to understand that things are being funded differently. For some things that meant the same programs were being funded, just through a different mechanism. … Generally, parents and the community now understand that these things need to be supported by contributions to SMMEF.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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