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Santa Monica School Board Member Says Malibu Parents Boycotting Education Foundation
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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

May 16, 2016 -- Observing a large discrepancy between the percentage of families in the local school district’s two cities that donate to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation (SMMEF), School Board President Laurie Lieberman alleged there was an organized boycott in Malibu.

“Clearly there’s been a concerted effort in many ways,” Lieberman said at the May 5 meeting, which took place in Malibu. “I have a hard time believing everybody’s making individual decisions to not contribute in ways that will help their own children.”

She later said, “I don’t want to pretend that there’s not something going on, and I don’t mean the thing to do about it is to bash people. But I think we have to get real about how to get through what is in effect a boycott of the Ed Foundation."

SMMEF Executive Director Linda Greenberg told the board that 95 percent of the money donated by district families had come from Santa Monica. While 34.9 percent of Santa Monica families had given money, 11.9 percent of Malibu families had done the same.

“That’s a notable discrepancy,” Greenberg said.

She continued, “We are very aware of the concerns that Malibu families have with the district, but we as the fundraising organization that is trying to raise money for programs for kids implore them to uncouple their concerns with the amazing programs that are benefiting their children.”

The SMMEF is in danger of not meeting its $3.6 million fundraising goal by the June 30 deadline. It had collected nearly $2.9 million by May 4, and Greenberg projected the final total would be $3 million if the current course remains ("Education Foundation Gets PTA Matching Grant," May 13, 2016).

Superintendent Sandra Lyon said the district would have to consider cutting arts, enrichment and other programs funded with SMMEF money at its meeting on Thursday.

Decisions made at the meeting could be reversed if enough money is donated before June 30, when the budget for the 2016-17 school year needs to be set.

There has long been a frustration in Malibu with the school district.

Having just one-fifth the population, Malibu often sees itself as the area of less focus for a district headquartered in Santa Monica and with just one Malibu resident on the board (one more than it had for a 10-year stretch beginning in late 2004).

Frustration increased nearly five years ago when the board approved a plan spearheaded by Lyon, who was then new to the district, that made fundraising centralized and no longer something that individual PTAs could do to help their own schools ("Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Approves Controversial Gift Policy," December 1, 2011).

There also has been anger about what is seen by some, although not all, parents of the district ignoring environmental issues at Malibu High School.

Other issues also persist, and there is an organized effort to form a separate school district in Malibu ("Santa Monica School Board Members Support Malibu Split, Questions Remain," December 2, 2015).
("Santa Monica School Board Members Support Malibu Split, Questions Remain

“There are real issues and concerns and fears [in Malibu], and people leaving the community,” said Craig Foster, the lone Board of Education member from Malibu, at the May 5 meeting. “Our particular subset of this district is really disrupted and uncomfortable and scared and looking for solutions.”

He added, “I’m a big fan of leadership, and part of leadership is you have to create conditions where people feel safe and cared for and heard and understood. And I don’t think we’re doing a particularly good job of that.”

Foster said he disagreed that the SMMEF’s fundraising issue can be blamed fully on Malibu, calling it only “part of the puzzle.” He said Santa Monica families have also not raised enough money.

“It’s real easy to say when you’re 17 percent of the community, 'why haven’t you given more?'” Foster said. “Well, we haven’t given more because we’re a fraction of the community, and we also haven’t given more for other reasons.”

Foster said he would do what he could to increase the Malibu giving. He had already spoken at some schools about the issue prior to the meeting. He also said he would write a letter and participate in phone calls and anything else that was needed.

Foster said his message to the parents was, “If you’re mad at the district about something and not giving them money, they got your message. They’ve heard you. So, now the question is do you want to fund the programs for your children for the rest of the year?”

Other school board members said the district should highlight the positives coming from the district, including successes in programs and the consequences of what could happen if these programs can no longer be funded.

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