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Santa Monica - Malibu School Board Approves Controversial Gift Policy  

By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

December 1, 2011 -- The Santa Monica-Malibu School Board voted unanimously to move forward with their controversial district-wide fundraising policy at a tense meeting Tuesday night.

The School Board decided to develop a centralized fundraising plan that would bar Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) from raising money to pay for teachers or other personnel as well as “premium programs” at specific schools. Instead, the board will create a centralized organization that will pool the money and redistribute it amongst all the schools in the district.

It will not affect donations for school supplies or other materials, like computers. PTAs can still raise money for field trips, as well, according to Board member Ben Allen.

“My job is to ensure that all students in our district have equitable access,” said Superintendent Sandra Lyon Tuesday.

Changing the board policy is just about changing the direction and “painting with broad strokes,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon said Tuesday. The actual rules – and details – would have to be established by an administrative regulation.

The initial step would be to form a Superintendent's Advisory Group made up of 30 representatives of various groups in the community, including PTA Council members and members of the African American Parent Student Staff Support Group, to better flesh out the details of the plan, including what constitutes a “premium program.”

According to her time line, the district wouldn't adopt an administrative regulation – based on the recommendations of the Advisory Group – until June of 2013.

Lyon and district officials decided to draft a district-wide fundraising plan in light of the disparity that PTA spending on personnel has caused in the district.

Lyon said that allowing the PTAs to spend money on school personnel has created “great inequities across the district.”

Board member Nimish Patel said that the debate had made him realize that “we have two communities.”

Those two communities are divide along class lines.

According to Lyon's presentation, Point Dune Marine Science School spent $1,096 per student of private money on “instructional personnel” in the 2011-2012 school year.

Will Rogers Elementary School, the lowest fundraising school in the district, only spent $36 per student.

The month-long debate has caused much acrimony in Santa Monica and Malibu.

During the three hours of public comments, some speakers accused those who didn't support the program of selfishness while others said they felt they were being bullied into accepting a policy they thought was well-intentioned but ill-conceived.

Several times, the audience ignored the board's pleas to stop applauding after speakers and throughout the meeting, members of the audience audibly groaned while speakers were speaking.

Some parents expressed worry that if the new centralized fundraising organization fails to raise enough money, their schools will lose the programs they have been supporting.

The board added a commitment to the policy that keeping the current premium programs running.

Board member Ralph Merchur was absent from the meeting, citing a conflict of interest since his partner, Linda Gross, is the director of the Education Foundation.

Last Monday, the Malibu City Council voted to investigate the possibility of separating from the school district. Though Malibu Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal explicitly said that the decision to consider seceding was made before the district-wide fundraising policy was an issue, many who attended the meeting in support of secession pointed to the policy as the main impetus for leaving.


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