Even in an uncertain financial climate marked by a massive budget deficit, the Santa Monica-Malibu school district doesn’t want to do away with arts education.

The local Board of Education recently approved a contract of more than $607,000 for P.S. ARTS, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that brings a variety of arts programming to public schools.

The funding will cover visual and performing arts instruction for all elementary students in transitional kindergarten through 5th grade as well as for preschool children at two district sites.

Money for the contract was raised by the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, which collected $2.03 million for the district in a fundraising cycle that wrapped up June 30.

That total was well short of the $2.5 million that SMMEF was expected to collect over the 12-month period, touching off a heated debate among school board members about how to address the shortfall.

The board voted last month to make up for the nearly $500,000 deficit by using $300,000 in funds tied to the Local Control and Accountability Plan and roughly $200,000 from the district’s general fund.

Officials have said that non-classroom problems, including resistance in Malibu to the recently implemented centralized fundraising system and a protracted legal battle over chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu schools, negatively impacted the success of the SMMEF fundraiser.

“We’re a school district with lots of distractions,” foundation board president Kathleen Rawson said recently. “We would be remiss not to acknowledge that these obstacles are hindering some of our fundraising success.”

Blended learning

Blended learning might sound like throwing a textbook into a smoothie machine and hoping for the best, but it’s actually a new method for nourishing children’s brains.

The school board this month approved a contract of about $23,000 to Ohio-based DSD Professional Development, which will train district teachers in the strategy over the course of the school year.

According to Terry Deloria, the SMMUSD assistant superintendent for educational services, a dozen teachers are participating in a pilot program to incorporate more blended learning into their classrooms. The approach highlights digital and online media as resources and puts more decision-making power in the hands of students.

“In the future,” Deloria said, “we need to be thinking about how we can help our teachers use technology in the classroom in a way that engages students and allows them choice.”

Teachers who received at least 49 hours of professional development per year could boost student achievement by upwards of 20 percentile points, according to American Institute for Research data cited by the consultant.

New purchase orders

The school board approved a slate of new purchase orders totaling more than $990,000.

That figure includes more than $28,000 for air conditioning services at SMMUSD headquarters. Air conditioning has been a topic of discussion in the district in recent years amid complaints from students, parents and teachers about uncomfortable classroom conditions, particularly at the beginning of the school year. Few student learning spaces are air-conditioned.