Santa Monica Lookout
Equity Fund Slump Related to District-Wide Fundraising Effort, Say Malibu Parents
By Jason Islas
November 1, 2012 -- With the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District's equity fund falling $40,000 shy of 2010-2011 levels, some are concerned that it could portend problems with a plan to centralize fundraising.
The equity fund, which dropped from $379,764 in 2010-2011 to $340,310 in 2011-2012, is funded primarily with a voluntary contribution of 15 percent of Parent-Teacher Association funds raised by each school in the district, and the shrinking numbers suggest that some parents may be more hesitant to contribute.
At least that's how Malibu's Webster Elementary PTA President and candidate for the School Board Craig Foster feels.
“The frustration and the looming change in the way things are done is what's impacting our ability to raise funds,” Foster said.
According to a chart presented at the October 18 School Board meeting, Webster contributed $11,764 in 2011-2012, down from $41,919 the previous year.
The lower numbers raised suspicions that some schools weren't paying in their 15 percent, but Foster said that he's certain Webster contributed more than $11,764 and that the reported number is an error.
Even so, he said that it has still been harder to raise money after the School Board voted last year to implement a district-wide fundraising policy that would require funds raised by schools for personnel and special program expenses to be pooled and then redistributed throughout the district. ("Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Approves Controversial Gift Policy," December 1, 2012)
The discussion over district-wide fundraising has been tense, with some some Malibu officials -- including Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal -- calling for their city to separate from the district.
“There's so much uncertainty” about district-wide fundraising, said Seth Jacobson, who is running for school board with Foster as part of a slate of three Malibu candidates.
“Where you have uncertainty, there's a lack of commitment,” said Jacobson, who is also the current president of Malibu High's Shark Fund.
Former Webster PTA President Kathy Ferbas said that in Malibu that's the general sentiment. This year, she said, Webster's direct fundraising drive garnered a lower amount of money than she had seen in her history working with the school, adding that they came up at least $45,000 less than projected.
“The moment that the district fundraising conversation came up, that was it,” she said. “People are angry. The community of Malibu feels really left out this conversation.”
But district officials don't agree that this about district-wide fundraising.
“I'm not going to speculate why people have or haven't contributed” to the equity fund, said Superintendent Sandy Lyon. “We're still optimistic that they will.”
But she doesn't think that the drop in the equity fund is an indication of how the new district-wide fundraising policy will pan out, adding that neighboring districts which have implemented similar policies have all had success.
Still, Juan Cabrillo Elementary -- also in Malibu -- has dropped their contribution to the equity fund from $28,088 in 2009-2010 to $2,500 in 2011-2012. Another Malibu School, Point Dume Marine Science Elementary Elementary School, contributed $12,000 less in the most recent period than in the last, dropping from $46,000 to $38,000.
It's not just Malibu schools that are showing a drop. Lincoln Middle School shows a drop from $16,454 in 2010-2011 to $3,174 in 2011-2012. In that same period, Edison Language Academy's contribution dropped from $14,184 to $3,979.
Lincoln Principal Suzanne Webb said that the reported drop is partly because the school's most recent contribution -- nearly another $12,000 -- hadn't yet been calculated on the chart presented at the October 18 School Board meeting.
Still, Lincoln's contribution has dropped by about $1,000. Webb said that district-wide fundraising was “not a concern that came up” when talking with PTA members.
Incumbent School Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez agrees.
“Everything is speculation,” she said. “I don't think it's a direct response” to district-wide fundraising.
“Everybody was having difficulty raising money,” said Leon-Vazquez. “I haven't heard anything negative from PTA leadership” about district-wide fundraising.
“A lot of the equity fund is going to fold into the district-wide fundraising issues,” she said, since the equity fund pays for special programs, such as reading programs.
The equity fund was started under Superintendent John Deasy and pools 15 percent of PTA funds raised -- with some exemptions -- and redistributes them throughout the district based on each school's need for special programs. The need is determind by a formula which takes into account test scores, number of ESL students at a school and other criteria.
This isn't the first time that the equity fund has had trouble getting contributions.
In 2007-2008, Pt. Dume, Webster, and Malibu Middle/High School all made no contributions to the equity fund over concerns about how the money was being used, according to School Board member Ralph Mechur.
However, that won't be a problem with the new district-wide fundraising issue, said Lyon.
“The plan that we'll be working on is going to specify what the funds are going for,” she said, adding that there will be checks and balances, though the details are still being worked out.
“We're in the process of a detailed roll out,” said incumbent School Board member Ben Allen. “We're including a lot of voices. As we move forward with the roll out, people will have a better understanding of where and how that money will be spent.”
“The issue will be fully vetted, presented and discussed November 15,” he said, adding that whether or not Propositions 30 and 38 pass will affect the conversation.
If they pass, Propositions 30 and 38 could be a boon to districts throughout the state, allocating millions of dollars for personnel and programs.
If not, SMMUSD could be facing an immediate $5 million budget cut.
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