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Santa Monica-Malibu Principals Warn of Program Cuts

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 7, 2016 -- With less than a month left to raise education funds, principals in all 16 schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu public school system Monday warned of cuts in the arts, sciences and even reading if more money is not contributed.

In a letter emailed to local media outlets, the principals said that without more donations the School Board might cut or cancel programs next year financed by the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation (SMMEF).

SMMEF, the major fundraising arm of the school district, is struggling to meet its goal of $3.6 million by the school district’s June 30 deadline, which is the end of the fiscal year.

In their letter, the principals said SMMEF had reached 82 percent of the goal. They urged bridging the gap by taking advantage of a $200,000 matching gift from the Franklin Elementary School PTA offered in May.

“We also see the difference these programs make in our academic goals for all students,” the letter said. “They are vitally important to the quality of our children’s education, and we want them to continue next year.

"Unless everyone does their part, however, the Board of Education may have to cut or cancel some of these programs for next year.”

Contributions to SMMEF from the Malibu portion of the district are far fewer proportionally than their counterparts in Santa Monica. That has prompted allegations of an organized boycott of the foundation by Malibu, a notion supported by School Board President Laurie Lieberman ("Santa Monica School Board Member Says Malibu Parents Boycotting Education Foundation," May 16, 2016).

Some 95 percent of the money donated by district families comes from Santa Monica, according to SMMEF Executive Director Linda Greenberg. Nearly 35 percent of Santa Monica families had given money, while 12 percent of Malibu families had done so.

Malibu has a fifth of the population of Santa Monica and parents there have long felt under-represented by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).

Some parents are engaged in a long battle over pollution at some of the Malibu schools and that, along with other frustrations, has prompted negotiations to allow Malibu to separate and form its own district.

Talks by a special committee concerning the split started in March. They were canceled temporarily after a member filed a Voting Rights lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica that school officials worried was also directed at the district ("Lawsuit Pauses Santa Monica, Malibu School District Split Talks," April 18, 2016).

The member, attorney Kevin Shenkman of Malibu, left and was replaced by Makan Delrahim, another Malibu attorney. The six-member panel is evenly split between Malibu and SMMUSD representatives.

After Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) formally removed themselves from the lawsuit, talks resumed on May 24, according to the district ("Santa Monica, Malibu Separation Talks to Resume," April 27, 2016).

Under the current SMMUSD fundraising system, donations help fund arts and science-related education programs, instructional assistants, literacy coaches and other enrichment efforts districtwide.

Adopted about five years ago, the system which has proved controversial among malibu parents restricted PTAs to funding such things as added supplies, books and equipment at each PTA school site.

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