Karen Farrer’s Letter to the District

To: SMMUSD Board of Education, Superintendent Sandra Lyon

Thank you for your attention to the many different perspectives at last night’s
BOE meeting.

We all heard a spectrum of opinions from the 46 speakers during public comments.

I came away with a few lasting impressions. Please consider the following:

1) The message from most parents at the schools able to raise the most money
(basically the four Malibu schools and the higher fundraising schools in Santa
Monica): Raise up, rather than seek the lowest common denominator. This means
allow sites to keep existing programs and find new money to bring lower-income
schools up.

2) The Santa Monica – Malibu Education Foundation has been anything but
transparent. Perfect example: In my 20 years as a parent volunteer – even in my
eight years as a Santa Monica – Malibu PTA Council board member (and terms as
President of Webster PTA and Malibu High PTSA) I have never once seen a
financial statement from the Ed. Foundation, even though SMMEF Executive
Director Linda Gross attends all Council meetings. I find this remarkable. I
asked for this information in a PTA Council meeting about a month ago and was
told by Ms. Gross to go on the Ed. Foundation’s website, www.smmef.org.
I did, but there is scant information there, merely a pie chart showing where
money is spent. I, and others, sought out this information on
www.guidestar.org, where tax return figures for 1.8 million non-profit
organizations can be found. Isn’t that unusual? That we have to go to an
outside source for information about our own foundation?

3) A reminder about human nature: people do not donate money when they are
unsure of where their money is going. Just basic stuff – if my eleven-year-old
asked me for five dollars, my response would be, “What do you need it for?”

4) Ed. Foundation Executive Director Linda Gross and Board of Education member
Ralph Mechur are domestic partners. Despite their respective commendable
backgrounds and qualifications, this makes for valid questioning regarding
conflict of interest – not just on this issue, but on an ongoing basis on many
issues.

5) Sorry to say: A raffle is never going to produce the kind of money our
district needs. SMMUSD needs serious, professional fund raising. I agree with
the public comments of Ms. Garcetti, the parent from Franklin: it is time to
find new, professional leadership for the Ed. Foundation. While I truly
appreciate Ms. Gross’ years of work, the demands are too great now to continue
with the existing formula.

6) One more time: neither the Ed. Foundation nor the Board of Education have ONE
Malibu resident. Malibu constitutes 20 percent of the district with zero
representation.

Some possible solutions:

1) Keep the 15 percent Equity Fund and abolish all exemptions. Require every
fundraising entity – not just PTA’s, but all campus groups raising money -
Booster Clubs, Arts Angels, Samohi Band Parents, etc., to participate. In other
words, every tax ID # at every school should pay a 15 percent flat tax. This
alone would result in a big jump in revenue without a backlash in donor
perception. Many, if not most, donors already think this is the case. The
exemptions are lost in translation with many of our constituents. The BOE can
use guidestar.org to get its figures. And, it is no surprise that
self-reporting invites cheating, as we all have seen.

2) Enforce your own policy. Samohi was allowed to ignore the Equity Fund for
the first five years of its existence. That is shameful, both for Samohi and
the district. In the meantime, Malibu High painstakingly accounted for all
funds raised each year. Unbelievable – and demoralizing. Where was the
leadership?

In conclusion, if last night’s proposal goes through, SMMUSD will most likely
become a district of the lowest common denominator. I know this is not your
goal, but it is reality. Families will leave, ADA will go down, student to
teacher ratio will increase, and those remaining will donate less, or not at
all.

Please reconsider your proposed plan. As you heard last night, many of us
believe you can do better and are willing to help.

Thank you,

Karen Farrer

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2 comments on “Karen Farrer’s Letter to the District

  1. I am a parent of a kindergarten student at Webster Elementary School in Malibu and could not agree more with Karen Ferrer’s letter. This proposal would be a catastrophe for the five schools raising the most money and would not improve the conditions of the others by much, if at all. Besides all the extremely valid reason listed above, may I add that this school district s far too heterogeneous (geography, demographics, risk factors) to allow for such a centralized management of all donations. Yes, extend the 15 percent equity fund to all groups. Eventually raise the percentage to 20% or 25%. But do not take away all donations. that would ultimately destroy the quality of the district’s education, not raise it.
    Thank you for your consideration,
    Pierre Simenon

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