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Ed Board Focuses on School Fundraising Disparities  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

August 26, 2010 -- There is a growing disparity in money being raised by PTAs across the School District, raising concerns among School Board members that poorer schools will be harder hit by the district’s budget shortfall.

In one glaring example, the PTA at the Will Rogers Learning Community in Santa Monica’s south side raised $6,631, compared to $77,731 raised by the PTA at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School in upscale Malibu. (see breakdown below)

In addition to the looming fundraising gap, board members accused the PTAs of not reporting all the money raised and used. This affects the size of the Equity Fund, the major feature of the District’s Gift Policy.

The policy requires 15 percent of most cash donations and the value of gifts given to the individual schools to be pooled together into the Equity Fund. Money from the fund is allocated to schools on a weighted formula that allows more dollars to go to those with student populations of lower economic standing.

“It has gotten so unbalanced in such a strange way,” Board member Kelly Pye said of the PTA funding.

The PTA money is used for various purposes, including staffing, programs, supplies and other miscellaneous purposes.

Money for staffing is a particular concern for board members because while schools cannot fund full-time teaching positions, they can bring in “hourly” instructors. Teaching positions were eliminated for this school year due to budget cuts, so schools with more PTA-funded hourly teachers would be able to provide better educational opportunities that other schools could not offer, board members said.

“Some schools can put back almost everything,” Board member Jose Escarce said. “They can’t hire full-time teachers, but short of that they can do as much as they can to almost replace full-time teachers. And other schools can’t even begin to think about it. What do we do about that?”

The board determined PTAs should be allowed to spend an amount of money to fund the same programs and hourly staff positions they did last year, but they should not be able to raise the bar. Superintendent Tim Cuneo is scheduled to meet with school principals about this topic soon. Also, this is expected to be on the agenda for an upcoming meeting of the PTA Council, a District-wide board that includes representatives from all the PTAs.

The board members want to have a more thorough discussion about the Gift Policy, including possibly modifying it. Several board members said that will likely be a multi-meeting discussion that will involve lots of community input and could be controversial.

The board is scheduled to determine the distribution of money from the Equity Fund for the 2010-11 school year at the next meeting on Wednesday. But the meeting will likely not include the general discussion about the policy that board members want to have.

Some board members touched on the Gift Policy issues during last week’s meeting.

“What has happened in the past is nobody has minded the shop, and all these disparities have grown,” Pye said. “And there’s still more underground. There’s got to be a way to put some teeth into this.”

Board member Ben Allen said schools that raise lots of money and those that struggle with the process should be matched for joint-fundraising programs. He also said that the concept of raising money for the District as a whole is not usually on the minds of most people other than board members and SMMUSD staff.

“They think about the kids at their schools,” Allen said. “They are concerned about raising money for their schools. They are not thinking about the broader District as a whole.”

Several board members noted that the recent Save Our Schools campaign was a District-wide funding effort, and could be an example of a new approach to raising money.

“We don’t want to put a stranglehold on fundraising,” Board member Oscar de la Torre said. “We want to find a way for people to raise money. But then we also don’t want the inequities in our District to be so much.”

Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School: $77,731
Will Rogers Learning Community: $6,631
Roosevelt Elementary School: $50,694
SMASH: $13,303
Webster Elementary School: $40,951
Juan Cabrillo Elementary School: $90,712
Edison Language Academy: $14,096
Franklin Elementary School: $59,300
Grant Elementary School: $45,358
McKinley Elementary School: $20,583
John Muir Elementary School: $22,130
John Adams Middle School: $35,750
Lincoln Middle School: $17,544
Malibu High School (grades 6-12): $125,642
Olympic High School: $500
Santa Monica High School: $30,000


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