School Board Strips PTAs of Major Fundraising Roles

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education votes 6-0 to stop PTAs from paying the salaries of extra personnel like teacher aides, saying it creates inequities among schools.

In what two board members proclaimed to be the most significant votes of their tenures, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously late Tuesday to shake up the district's fundraising rules.

Shortly before midnight and after more than three hours of public input, the board voted 6-0 to prohibit school PTAs from raising money to hire personnel and to block them from funding programs and services eliminated in the wake of state budget cuts.

The nonprofit Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation will be placed in charge of these efforts as early as the 2013-14 school year, but no later than July 2014.

"Allowing individual PTAs to raise and expend money to hire staff in SMMUSD is a practice ... [that] has created great inequities across the district," said Superintendent Sandra Lyon. It "creates a climate in which the instruction and instructional experiences students receive and the conditions in which teachers work are altered by the amount of money individual PTAs can raise."

The sweeping changes will spark a "change in culture that includes caring about all children in the district," said Board member Laurie Lieberman, who added that the move isn't a cure-all to closing the achievement gap.

But the changes have also wrought divisions between parents in Santa Monica and Malibu, which has no representation on the Board of Education and is now looking to .

New details released by Lyon during Tuesday's meeting call for the formation of a 30-member advisory board to guide district officials in figuring out how exactly the new plan will be carried out.

The advisory board will include representatives from the district's Financial Oversight Committee, each school PTA and other coalitions such as the African American Parent Student Staff Support Group as well as school administrators and members of the Education Foundation. It will be formed by the first week of January.

Members of the advisory board will be tasked with finding out what's currently being offered at each individual school and at what cost, determining the types of programs every student in the district should have access to and meeting with staffers in districts such as Manhattan Beach and Palo Alto that have already adopted centralized fundraising models.

The 6-0 vote came after dozens of parents urged the school board to postpone its decision to allow more time to suss out details of the plan—a request echoed in a Sunday Los Angeles Times editorial. One mom called Superintendent Lyon's proposal a "Robin Hood plan" that needed more fleshing out.

Many residents on both sides of the aisle said more evidence is needed to prove the new model will be successful in ensuring every student in the district has equal access to faculty and programs.

"The goal of the proposed policy is laudable. I do believe strongly in equal access to education," said Lincoln Middle School PTA President Karen Gardner, who went on to express concern that the board was taking a "shoot first, look later" approach to developing its plan.

Opponents have said the plan would reduce district fundraising overall because fewer people would want to contribute if the money were not going to their children's schools.

In one extreme example, district statistics show that  in Malibu plans to spend $1,096 per student this school year on instructional personnel through money raised from the PTA, while in Santa Monica is expected to spend $65 per student.

In an attempt to assure Malibu residents that their schools will not suffer when the new fundraising plan is implemented, the school board wrote into the new policy a statement expressing its commitment to sustaining existing specialty programs at individual schools, like the marine science program currently offered at PDMSS.

Plus, PTAs can still contribute by raising money for activities, like field trips, and for new equipment, like computers, said Board member Ben Allen.

"This is not going to prevent parents from giving directly to schools," he said.

Allen and fellow board members offered the approximately 200 people in attendance Tuesday night explanations as to why they each supports the new fundraising model.

Board member Nimish Patel's oration drew hearty applause and a small standing ovation. Although he said how PTA funds are raised was a factor in his and his wife's decision to live within the boundaries of  in Santa Monica—where he said he has continually helped raise $600,000 for the school yearly—he has spoken recently with parents whose children go to school hungry, who don't do their homework because they don't have electricity or who don't live next door to rich to movie producers and CEOs of companies with extra cash to donate.

"This year, I realized we have two communities," Patel said.

"Public school should be equal for all who attend them," said Laurie Latham, president of the PTA at  in Santa Monica. "The process hasn't been perfect; I don't know if everyone will hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' ... [but] taking a step in the direction of equity is the right thing to do.

Board of Education member Ralph Mechur was absent from Tuesday's meeting. He has said he would not vote on the fundraising policy change because his life partner is Linda Gross, the director of the Education Foundation.

Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 07:40 AM
This is not a business. This is a public institution. The "poor" do not "chase down achievement" for anyone. The wealthy do not set the bar for acheivement either. They simply have more privileges which some confuse with rights and more opportunities which some mistake for being more deserving.
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 07:47 AM
You are aware that evening out the playing field involves the process of actual evening, yes?
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 08:08 AM
What are these "dreadful real-world consequences?" please elaborate. And can you explain how "the children of both Santa Monica and Malibu will suffer"? I would also like more information about how this school board decision confirmed your suspicions that the "needs of children come second to their politicking"? Your post seems to be lacking important factual content needed to support your assertions, sir. I look forward to reading the updated informative version soon, because this one had a lot of headlines but no story.
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 08:11 AM
First, you will have to locate someone in touch with reality to spearhead this mission.
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 08:26 AM
You are aware that you can still open your checkbook and provide your children with any educational support and enrichment activities you like, right? Through any private-sector institution or individual provider. That would be entirely legal.
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 08:51 AM
http://www.edison.smmusd.org/duringSchool.html http://www.grant.smmusd.org/AboutGrant.html http://www.muir.smmusd.org/art.html http://www.mckinley.smmusd.org/music.html http://www.rogers.smmusd.org/programs.html here are a few links to get you started so that you may learn about the wonderful music education and visual and performing arts programs offered at Santa Monica schools. Children in Santa Monica are developing music skills as I type this. If you visit your school district's website you can access more information about all the wonderful athletic and enrichment opportunities available to all students, and you can browse individual elementary school websites to find out how each PTA operates and what they have been paying for, including Teaching Assisitants and supplementary program. It's good to be informed.
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 08:56 AM
The state of California has ruled several times over that students served by public schools should be afforded equal access to resources despite any disparities between communities.
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 09:25 AM
There are no "underperforming schools" there are only the same historically underserved students (demographically speaking) who are not able to "perform" as well as or historically privileged groups because of huge gaps in resources and opportunities. Yep. demographically speaking, your children aren't out performing their Santa Monica peers in any significantly notable ways. That said, what do you think should be done to close this "embarrassing gap"? What ideas do you have that might help the BOE provide lower performing students with the same opportunities and support that their higher performing peers have. What do you think the responsibilities and priorities of a public-sector institution should be when it comes to closing that gap? What do you think the best use of the equity tax you pay would be? What would you like to see when you call for transparency? What ideas do you have for the allocation of these funds that might help the district move closer toward closing the achievement gap? Can you clarify what it is that you might find to be worthwhile efforts made by the BOE or individual school sites as opposed to what you might find to be a failure to adequately allocate your contributions toward equity in this district? What efforts would you like to see implemented and why?
suzanne demarco December 01, 2011 at 02:28 PM
How about, a period longer than 26 days to look at, discuss, analyze, talk over, evaluate and then re-evaluate the situation! Why the rush??
Marshall Thompson December 01, 2011 at 03:11 PM
Hey, "Just Saying," unless you come out with your real identity I think you should stop your divisive bloviating on our Malibu Patch. Your name has not appeared here before as far as I can tell except for commenting on this absurd BOE decision. Put up (your REAL name) OR SHUT THE HECK UP, YOU TROLL. Your comments behind a mask completely lack any credibility.
Marshall Thompson December 01, 2011 at 03:12 PM
Hey, "Just Saying," unless you come out with your real identity I think you should stop your divisive bloviating on our Malibu Patch. Your name has not appeared here before as far as I can tell except for commenting on this absurd BOE decision. Put up (your REAL name) OR SHUT THE HECK UP, YOU TROLL. Your comments behind a mask completely lack any credibility.
Malibu Girl December 01, 2011 at 03:54 PM
That may be so for district resources (something I agree with) but it is unrealistic to apply this to PRIVATE donations people choose to make to their child's school. Those are voluntary contributions that people can choose not to make, if they do not feel their money is being spent in the way they wish. It's all very well you coming here and going after every point people are making.... You are as deluded as the school board members if you think Malibu parents are going to continue donating at the rate they have been if their money is simply going to be taken from one community and given to another. It won't happen. The issues of inequality in the district cannot simply be solved by throwing money at the problem.
Erin Inatsugu December 01, 2011 at 06:05 PM
Marshall - Yes, I'm SURE that "Malibu Dad" is the original poster's real name, right? Where are the complaints from people who have read the policy or taken the time to fact-find, rather than reading blog posts for their information? The comments from those who speak only based on rumor and fear of a lack of control, are the ones who lack credibility.
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Dear Mr. Marshall Thompson, I am not a troll. I hold different views than you. I am responding in earnest to many of of the misinformed and reactionary comments here. For clarification: I am a home-owner, a tax-payer, and a parent in the SMMUSD. . My elementary-school aged child is not underprivileged in any way and his performance scores place him in the group that raises the overall achievement averages. I was raised and attended public (and parent-funded) schools in a very wealthy CA community. I pay extraordinarily high property taxes, additional parcel taxes, and now local retail taxes for the privilege of living here and educating my child in the SMMUSD school district. I donate to our school, individual classrooms as well as to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation. I am a stake-holder in this system. I do not comment on any public forum using my REAL name because I wish to protect my privacy and keep the dialogue about this and other issues appropriately confined to a space designed to leave comments and thoughts on a community issue. So far, " Malibu Dad", "Malibu Girl", and R Y A N, are also aware of the privacy and sometimes personal safety issues involved when you provide personal information to strangers on the internet. You may yell at me online. But, I use common sense and take the necessary (and almost universally recommended) precautions to ensure that no one with a loose grip on appropriate boundaries ever shows up on my doorstep to do the same.
Marshall Thompson December 01, 2011 at 07:16 PM
Just Sayin 10:42am on Thursday, December 1, 2011 "Dear Mr. Marshall Thompson, I am not a troll. I hold different views than you. I am responding in earnest to many of of the misinformed and reactionary comments here. For clarification: I am a home-owner, a tax-payer, and a parent in the SMMUSD....) I'm not the problem, whoever you are. Political correctness and Marxist-collectivism (an entirely discredited philosophy which has caused the death of untold millions across the planet) have gone mad here. THAT is the problem, and it infects nearly all levels of public and - sadly - a lot of private education as well. Your views are revealed by your use of the word "reactionary." But thanks for the clarification. It makes me want to support an independent Malibu School district even more vigorously, especially since we have not a single representative on the BOE. Enough of the "Peoples Republic of Santa Monica."
Just Sayin December 01, 2011 at 07:22 PM
To Malibu Girl, thank you for replying respectfully to my comment. I would like to clarify for the record, though, that my personal concerns about the issue at hand are not in any way related to hoping that Malibu parents continue to donate money at the same rate as they historically have. I am not after your money. I support a district that offers equitable educational opportunities to all and takes measures to ensure that private money cannot be used to buy certain schools extra resources and staff not available to other schools in our very small district. I believe it goes against the spirit and vision of a free and equitable public education for all. By all means, pull your donations. I fully support your right to spend your money however you wish in the private-sector, but do not support a school district that allows parents to create a few privileged schools for their children and neighbors only, hiring extra staff and providing more opportunities than are available on other campuses. Private schools are a viable option. I cannot support anyone's vision for creating one great well-funded and staffed school for their local community only over the greater good of having all the school in the community have access to more equitable resources. Lastly, if the problems at schools can't be solved by throwing money at the schools, then why are so many Malibu parents throwing money at their schools?
Len Simonian December 01, 2011 at 07:27 PM
I'm glad that your child and other Santa Monica students are developing music skills and participating in athletics. Also, I'm not jealous of those Santa Monica students and don't want them to lose those opportunities. If your child's school had a drama program that we did not have in Malibu, I wouldn't demand either that (a) you should donate to fund a drama program in all Malibu schools, or (b) my child's school should get some of the donations made by you for your child's school's drama program, or (c) your child's school's drama program should be shut down because we do not have such a program at my child's school and my child is somehow being discriminated against by these "great inequities across the district." The point is that the Board's decision will have the practical effect of (1) significantly reducing the donations that are being made to local public schools, and (2) thereby reducing the amount of funding our Malibu schools will get, and (3) limiting or eliminating the opportunities local parents are willing to pay for out of their own pockets to enrich their own children. You can put on all the spin you want to try and pretend that this is good for everyone, but that is not reality. The people who lose will be the kids at schools that raise funds and provide opportunities, as those will dry up. You may not like it, but as I said before, the basic principle the Board and people like you are operating under here is, "I can't have it, you can't have it."
Malibu Girl December 01, 2011 at 07:44 PM
We completely disagree on this. I also put my time and money into supporting my child's school and see nothing wrong with parents fundraising to supplement what the district should and does not provide. I cannot change the fact some schools are more supported than others. I can only work my hardest to influence the school my child attends. I do not begrudge other schools the money they raise or how they choose to spend it. Frankly, the district should fund the things that our PTA funds but they don't. As for Malibu parents throwing money at their children's schools.... That is EXACTLY the issue... the parents.... We do donate to our schools, although not at the rate you would think. I think you would be surprised if you knew how hard we worked to get families to contribute, or how hard it is for some families to do so. BUT... Most parents do something, and if they can't give money, they give time. We have a huge number of parent volunteers, who log hundreds of hours per month, working at their children's schools... It goes far beyond simply writing a check and this is where the SMMUSD is incredibly misguided in thinking that money alone can level the playing field. Many parents hire tutors if their kids are struggling, they help with homework, they work with the teachers to find a solution, they are actively involved in their children's education.
Malibu Girl December 01, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Part 2.... Wouldn't fit... I highly doubt many parents in the underperforming/underfunded schools do this, probably because they are working full time and don't have either the time OR the money to give to the schools. Is that fair? No.. But that is the way the world is and there is enormous inequality out there. Striping PTA funds from the Malibu schools simply means the parents will work harder to plug the gaps at their own school, but it won't make them continue to donate at the same rate they did before. Should we send our volunteers to these underfunded, underperforming schools as well to level the playing field there as well? I don't understand why you are here... you're clearly fired up over this because of the way you've been responding to so many posts, determined to prove your point, but I don't get why you feel the need to do so. The Board passed the fundraising initiative, you're going to get everything you say you want to happen, so why are you getting involved in this now? Why not just agree to disagree... We see this issue very differently and it is a further sign of division between the two communities that isn't going to be bridged anytime soon. The SMMUSD needs to take some responsibility for that but the cracks have always been there and won't go away.
Len Simonian December 01, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Dear Just Sayin, or Karl, or Josef, or whatever your real name is. Thanks for enlightening me as to how I can spend my own money, just as your BOE enlightened me on how I'm NOT allowed to DONATE my own money. Yes, telling people how they can donate their money is the American way, and taking opportunities away from some and making sure no one gets them is what makes American great. People like you ignore reality and dismiss legitimate points made by others by claiming they are opinion and not fact. Get real. Here are some facts: If I know that my donation is not going to my child's school and is going instead to many other schools to which I have no interest in donating money, I will no longer donate that way. Therefore, you and your BOE will have succeeded only in making my child's school lose. Though I have not conducted the CNN poll you will likely demand, I know from numerous discussions about this that many other parents (dare I say a large majority?) will not donate the same way either under these new rules. Therefore, the REAL, ACTUAL effect of the BOE's decision is that total donations to SMMUSD schools will plummet. Schools that used to get large donations will get much less and their students will lose opportunities, and schools that didn't get large donations before won't get more money. The REAL, ACTUAL effect will be, "I can't have it, you can't have it." You and your BOE must be tickled pink (or should I say, "RED") to slap down those pesky, spoiled Malibu kids.
Len Simonian December 01, 2011 at 08:16 PM
Just Sayin' - Wow. I'm surprised you actually spelled out your position. I must say it is shocking to read. You actually wrote, "I support a district that...takes measures to ensure that private money cannot be used to buy certain schools extra resources and staff not available to other schools in our very small district." I cannot comprehend how one could take this position. How does it affect you or your child in Santa Monica if Malibu parents donate their money to help pay for a music program or a marine science lab? How and why would you possibly be against that? From what you wrote, your answer is, "I believe it goes against the spirit and vision of a free and equitable public education for all." That attitude is sad and pathetic. What does it even mean? You want to take away enriching, educational opportunities from kids you do not know and have nothing to do with just based on some Marxist theory that everyone needs to get exactly the same thing? I was sort of kidding before, but now you've confirmed that your position and the BOE's position is indeed, "I can't have it, you can't have it." And the reason is...because in your OPINION it's not fair. Amazing.
Marshall Thompson December 01, 2011 at 09:00 PM
Seriously, folks, check out this insulting language pointed directly at Malibu (edited for length by me): "Board member Nimish Patel's oration drew hearty applause and a small standing ovation. —he has spoken recently with parents whose children go to school hungry, who don't do their homework because they don't have electricity or who don't live next door to rich to movie producers and CEOs of companies with extra cash to donate." This is class-warfare speak. I don't know the "rich" Malibu all that much. The vast majority of people I know are retired teachers, lifeguards and firefighters, small business owners, middle-class families, regular folks. I get so tired of the negative attitude that people outside of our community - who apparently know ZERO about the average resident here beyond their pre-conceived prejudices - project onto our entire City. We need our OWN school district if that is the attitude we get from people making use of OUR tax dollars. Screw 'em.
J. Flo December 01, 2011 at 10:10 PM
I don't have an opinion on the separate school issue but this comment "Some people work harder, some people are smarter" leaves me extremely disheartened and shocked. I can't even image typing it. Some children get to have food on their tables, some children are not abused, some children have two parents, some children have educated parents who help educate them, some children live in safe neighborhoods, some children have parents who don't work 2-3 jobs and can spend time with them, some children have easy access to great schools, some children grow up speaking English, some children have a family who can afford them tutors, books, computers, videos, trips overseas, museums, some children have parents who can afford them a college education. If anyones think the playing field is even in life - my God, they need to get out of Malibu and walk into reality. I get it - "Let them eat cake." If this is the mentality here, makes me want to move.
J. Flo December 01, 2011 at 10:44 PM
Just Sayin' isn't the only one here not using a "real name".
J. Flo December 01, 2011 at 11:13 PM
And obviously have zero comprehension on what "Occupy Wall Street" is about.
Tema Merback December 02, 2011 at 02:34 AM
I am so sorry to dishearten you Flora? I am also sorry to say the USSR has become capitalist or I would recommend you plant your fanny there. But, there is still time to go live in Cuba before it to ceases to be a country where everyone is equal (capitalism is a coming). Again, to reiterate this is not a communist or socialist country yet? Let me understand what SMMUSD has just accomplished. A small community works tirelessly to raise funds to support the education of its children and another community isn't as successful at raising funds but sees that the grass is greener next door and without even allowing the "tireless working" community to have a say in the discussion simply confiscates the funds insisting that it will equalize the playing field. If you don't see how preposterous and inequitable this is, but then never mind you wouldn't. I can tell you for certain that I am not interested in supporting this inequity and I won't. I am sure that many others will deal with it in the same manner.
Tema Merback December 02, 2011 at 02:35 AM
And now for the coup d'etat! When considering what a movement stands for (Occupy Wall Street) one must consider who that movements supporters are: And the envelope please? Party of Socialism and Liberation, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Communist Party USA, the American Nazi Party, Revolutionary Communist Party, Black Panthers, Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, CAIR, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, David Duke, Hugo Chavez, Revolutionary Guards of Iran, The Government of North Korea, Communist Party of China, Hezbollah, 9/11Truth.org, Marxist Student Union. I could go on, but (yawn). Oh, I forgot that fair minded individual George Soros who is always in the forefront of honest endeavors.
J. Flo December 02, 2011 at 02:42 AM
Is this a SNL skit?
Tema Merback December 02, 2011 at 03:03 AM
No, but I do know that this is no dress rehearsal.
Pamela Finck December 09, 2011 at 05:42 AM
I thought that 15% of funds raised through all the Malibu PTA programs went towards SMMUSD overall. Is this a done deal? Or is it possible for Malibu schools to collectively appeal to LACOE (Los Angeles County of Education?) Even in LAUSD, individual schools are allowed to raise funds through their PTA's and Charter schools to support staff/programs for their own childrens' schools without it going to other schools in the district. I think I'm tired of organizations in Santa Monica pushing their agendas on the community of Malibu. First, Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and Heal the Bay of Santa Monica come up with a plan to grab our voter approved Clean water bond monies to push their agenda on bulldozing the Malibu lagoon and now the Board of SMMUSD (which is a majority of Santa Monica residents) are requiring Malibu to share their funds raised. The community of Malibu needs to stand up for themselves, push back and say 'no thanks' to all these Santa Monica agencies and their bullish ways.


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