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Fundraisers Scramble After Malibu Schools Fail to Contribute

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article said that Webster Elementary's PTA had raised $20,000. In fact, the PTA had raised $2,000. The article has been updated to reflect this information.

January 28, 2014 -- With four days left to raise a million dollars, the District's fundraising arm is mounting an all-out campaign to meet its $4 million fundraising goal.

While the Foundation has raised $3.05 million, the shortfall is partly because schools in Malibu -- the wealthiest part of the District -- have given disproportionately little money to the pot, earmarked to pay for personnel and extracurricular programs at schools throughout the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).

“We're making a big push right now,” said Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation Executive Director Linda Greenberg Gross. “We’ve got many, many things planned in the next four days.”

That includes phone calls, emails and letters to families. And, Gross said, there is the possibility of a single donation coming through that would put the Ed Foundation over its goal.

“We have one extraordinary, big ask out there,” she said. “We don't know if that donor will come in on our timeline or on theirs.”

Still, there is the problem that not everyone is on board with the district-wide fundraising policy.

“Four of the lowest participating schools are Malibu schools,” said Linda Greenberg Gross, director of the Ed Foundation.

Gross said that the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) for Webster Elementary School had given the Ed Foundation a check for $2,000 but that the PTAs for the other three Malibu schools had yet to contribute anything.

Olympic High School in Santa Monica also hasn’t contributed anything, Gross said, but the school, which serves students who have had trouble at the other schools in the District, doesn’t have a PTA.

It’s not just the PTAs whose participations are down. Direct contributions from parents are lower in Malibu than at other schools. Throughout the District, family participation rates range from as high as 59.4 percent at one Santa Monica school to 1.1 percent at a school in Malibu.

“I'm disappointed by it,” said Mike Sidley, a Malibu parent and the husband of Ed Foundation President Wendy Sidley.

When the district-wide fundraising policy -- known as the “Vision for Student Success” initiative -- was adopted in December 2011, some Malibu parents protested because it barred them from donating directly to their children’s schools to pay for teachers, classroom aides and other personnel as well as for “premium programs.”

Instead, those donations would be pooled and redistributed throughout the District to pay for programs at schools with the greatest need.

But, that wouldn’t necessarily mean scaling back the programs at schools in wealthier areas of the District. In order to keep the level of extracurricular programs the same, officials determined that the Ed Foundation would have to raise about $4 million.

Since this is the first year for the program, Sidley said he thinks that over time, participation numbers will go up in Malibu.

Not all the donations have come from parents.

The $3 million that has been raised is partly due to “some extraordinarily generous gifts from individuals and businesses in both communities,” said School Boardmember Ben Allen.

Still, the controversy has opened some fissures between the communities.

When the School Board voted to go ahead with the controversial program, it prompted some in Malibu to study separating the towns into two districts because they felt under-represented by the School Board.

After the vote, Craig Foster -- a Malibu parent -- ran to sit on the School Board with two others from his city. The “reform slate” campaigned on the platform that the District would function better if broken into two.

Foster has given twice to the Ed Foundation’s drive.

Gross said that the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee -- made up of representatives of all the PTAs -- would meet soon to discuss what would happen should the $4 million goal not be met.

“Once we know how much money we have, the Superintendent will discuss it with this committee,” Gross said.

But Foster is holding out hope that the money will come.

“We're rooting for them to reach their goal by their deadline and we certainly hope that they have a last-minute surprise,” Foster said.

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