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

John Miller’s Letter to the District

Dear SM-MUSD Board Members and Superintendent Lyon,

Please excuse this long e-mail. I hope you find these thoughts worth contemplating.

I am writing to urge you not to proceed with the proposed Districtwide Fundraising Plan and to instead convene a group of experienced professionals to review alternative strategies for closing the resource gap among SMMUSD schools.

I understand the District has a compelling goal to provide equal opportunities for all students regardless of socio-economic status. While a worthy pursuit, it would be a grave mistake, with generational consequences, to pursue the goal in a fashion that ultimately proves destructive. Just as forced busing proved to be the wrong plan for the right cause, the Districtwide Fundraising Plan will also prove to be a misguided attempt to right a social wrong that ultimately will hurt the District far more than it will help.

Before I explain why, let me share a few words about myself. I have been a professional fundraiser for the past 17 years, 13 of which have been spent raising money for public education. From 1985-2000 I lived in Santa Monica and had six foster children – African-American, white, Latino, and Asian – who attended five different Santa Monica schools, ranging from Franklin Elementary which consisted primarily of high income families, to Olympic High School which was populated primarily by students from less advantaged backgrounds. Since 2000, I have lived in Malibu where I have had a son at Webster elementary school for the past five years.

Here are my predictions of what will happen if the Board adopts the Districtwide Fundraising Plan:

1.      Voluntary donations by Malibu parents (and Franklin and Roosevelt parents) to their children’s schools will drop by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

2.      The District will lose the passionate fundraising performed by a significant legion of Malibu (and Santa Monica) parents.

3.      Giving to the SM-Malibu Educational Foundation will increase by only a small fraction of the larger decrease which will occur as a result of Malibu (and Franklin and Roosevelt) families reducing their giving, resulting in a net drop in parent support of district schools totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

4.      Staff and programs in Malibu schools which are currently paid for by local PTAs will be sharply curtailed because the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation will not succeed in raising sufficient funds to provide for those things.

5.      The funding which Districtwide Fundraising Plan advocates hope will become available to less-resourced Santa Monica schools will fail to materialize.

6.      Significant numbers of Malibu families, distressed by the drop in quality in their children’s schools, will continue to act in their children’s interests and enroll their children in private schools which provide the staff and programs that Malibu parents want for their children and for which they are able and willing to pay.

7.      Given the fact that Malibu schools are among the highest achieving schools in the district, the districts overall achievement scores will drop as parents take their high-scoring children out of public schools.

8.      Given the fact that academic achievement is generally correlated with income, the flight of high income students in Malibu and Santa Monica to private schools will reduce the number of high achieving students in classrooms and reduce their former school’s achievement scores.

9.      The District will, in fact, achieve a minor narrowing of the resource gap, but it will not be achieved by substantially bringing up the bottom. Rather, the narrowing of the resource gap will be achieved simply by reducing the financial resources available to schools at the top.

10.   Similarly, the District will, in fact, achieve a minor narrowing of the achievement gap, but it will not be achieved by significantly bringing up the bottom.  Rather, the narrowing of the achievement gap will be achieved largely by reducing the number of high achieving students in high income schools.

11.   As a result of families withdrawing their students from district schools, SM-MUSD will lose the state funding it currently receives for enrolling those students.

12.   Future school bond measures will have a more difficult passage due to the fact that fewer families will have children enrolled in public schools, the number of passionate parents advocating for the bond measures will be reduced, and the number of votes cast in support of such bonds will drop. Given the razor-thin margin which bond measures have received when successful, the loss of passionate and influential advocates and the resulting loss of votes can have devastating consequences for future district budgets.

13.   The SM-MUSD Board of Education will have demonstrated again why it needs to find a way to create Malibu representation to help prevent actions that unintentionally, unnecessarily, and unproductively alienate its Malibu constituents.

Here is my recommendation: Convene a task force of experienced, professional fundraisers whose children are or have been students in Santa Monica-Malibu schools. There are many of us. Task the professional fundraisers among us with the challenge of coming up with a plan to increase the resources enjoyed by the low income schools rather than reducing the resources benefiting the high income schools. Everyone wins in that kind of solution. In the Proposed District Fundraising Plan, the schools, the district, the parents, and most of all the students will lose. No matter how hard mission-driven board members and administrators may wish it were otherwise, wishing the impossible will only make reality worse.

We must understand that the District Fundraising Plan is not like federal tax policy where you can transfer wealth from high income to low income earners simply by declaring that the wealthy MUST pay the tax. Your plan requires voluntary giving – and people will not give when they are ANGRY about the plan. Angry parents will not give. They won’t. Fundraisers understand this reality, and if district leadership ignores this, it will be to the district’s peril.

I have heard some in Santa Monica complain that the privileged people of Malibu (and Franklin and Roosevelt) who object to the plan are behaving selfishly. But if one stops and really thinks about it, Malibu parents spend their time and resources in the same way that each of you on the School board do. Each one of you, in fact, could choose to devote your energies to schools far needier than Santa Monica’s most needy, to children in far more desperate circumstances than our kids in Santa Monica. Yet even though there are schools and children far worse off than our own, you are investing your time and resources in Santa Monica simply because you have chosen, consciously or not, to make your investment in the community to which you belong. Is that being selfish of you? Maybe in a sense it is but, in the end, we all allocate our times and resources in the ways we want. Malibu parents are doing precisely the same thing. Their behavior and motivations need to be understood as being no different than your or anyone else’s and managed appropriately.

Let me close with an analogy. During the 13 years I worked in the University of California system, UC Berkeley and UCLA raised hundreds of millions of dollars more from private gifts than the other UC campuses. Yet the president’s office at the University of California always knew that reducing Berkeley and UCLA’s ability to raise large sums of money was not the solution to the other campuses’ needs. Similarly, while I was at UCLA, the Schools of Medicine and Business raised millions upon millions of dollars more than the school of nursing or the humanities. Yet the Chancellor knew that reducing Medicine’s and Business’s ability to raise money was not the solution to other schools’ needs.

Please don’t think that you will help the less resourced schools in Santa Monica by preventing Malibu parents from making their schools the best those schools can possibly be. You cannot add height to a short person by cutting off the head of a tall one. True, the difference between the two will diminish and the short person might actually feel less short. But the short person has not truly been helped despite the tall person’s loss.

Please put this matter in the hands of experienced professionals and solicit their advice. Let’s narrow the differential by raising the bottom up rather than by taking the top down. It’s not a perfect world and we will never get all the way there. But let’s act constructively. There is too much at stake to do otherwise.

Sincerely,

John Miller

Ann Hover’s First Letter to the District

Dear Members of the SMMUSD Board of Education:

I am a parent with children at Lincoln and at Franklin and have some comments
and questions regarding the current push to centralize PTA fundraising efforts:

1. Goals? Although an achievement gap exists within SMMUSD,
I haven’t yet seen the Board identify and articulate the perceived sources of
this gap. What specific tools and resources do you believe will help close this
gap (i.e., raise API and AYP scores at our under-performing schools), what do
these resources cost, and when/how will you measure their success if
implemented? I find it quite puzzling that you seek to put a policy in place
without determining the foregoing.

2. Legwork to Identify Inequities/Publicizing Site Budgets? What research have
you done to clearly identify & articulate any existing inequities in funding?
Have you compared Site budgets district-wide, line-by-line? Have you determined
whether available Site budget resources are being used effectively at each Site?
I do not understand why you are focusing on PTA budgets before making public and
reviewing Site budgets, as PTA budgets provide a mere fraction of the resources
given to each Site. The focus on PTA budgets before examining Site budgets is
akin to fiddling with your sail when your boat has a leak. The public expects
the Board to conduct a Site budget analysis and, additionally, demonstrate to
us where inequities, if any, are occurring within these budgets.

Possibly inequities may actually occur in favor of our Title I schools. Do you
not want the public to see that for some reason? For instance, Title I schools
may use their funds for, among other things:
• intervention programs/software (like Success Maker and Lexia),
• parent education programs and events
• reading labs
• counseling
• professional development
• community liaisons
• classroom supplies above a certain amount
• copy equipment and services

At Franklin, in contrast, we cannot use Site budget resources for the foregoing
and so our PTA has to raise over $60,000 annually just to cover these basics.

3. Per Student Spending Site-by-Site? In short, what is per student spending
by SMMUSD at each Site (taking into account all available resources, excluding
PTA funds)? Are there inequities in per student spending Site-to-Site?

4. Talking to the experts & other stakeholders: Have you met with principals
across SMMUSD to identify the tools and resources they have found to be most
effective at improving student performance? Have you facilitated consensus
among these Site leaders as to what best practices are? Again – please
communicate what best practices are, how much do they cost, and if implemented
where absent now, when/how will you measure their success? And have you
solicited input from teaching specialists, other administrators, and parents?
If not, why not?

5. Failure of the Equity Fund: It seems that you would not be pursuing a new
equitable funding strategy had the Equity Fund been a success. Do you believe
the Equity Fund has failed and should be dismantled? If so, what lessons can we
learn from its failure? How were Equity Funds spent Site-by-Site and why did
those expenditures not do more to close the achievement gap? When can PTAs cease
contributing to the Equity Fund?

6. Openness is the Key: Why have you not yet communicated directly about this
key issue to parents? Why did I have to find out about this in the Daily Press?
If you seek a buy-in from all your stakeholders, you must make this process open
from top to bottom. Open your discussions, publicize the issue(s) on the table,
open the Site budgets, discuss and publicize per student spending, review the
failures of the Equity Fund, work with your principals and other stakeholders,
and really take a new and fresh look at things so you can propose some very
targeted and specific goals that the whole SMMUSD community may rally around.

This would include immediately constituting a committee to take an active role
in shaping the goals and outcome of this process. The committee would include a
PTA representative from every school in the District. Once the goals and policy
are finalized, each PTA must be given a seat on the Financial Oversight
Committee or on a new Centralized Fundraising Committee to review where all
dollars raised and spent end up.

7. Timing and Process: Obviously, I believe the Board has a lot more homework
to do. Developing a policy in the absence of clearly articulated goals based on
thorough & appropriate research is an ineffective way to come up with a plan for
meaningful change.

As presently conducted, this is a hastily-conceived process, shrouded in
secrecy, & imbued with politics, which has had the effect of generating anxiety
& Board mistrust throughout SMMUSD (that is, among stakeholders who have become
aware of what is going on).

In addition, the process so far has had the extremely unfortunate effect of
pitting schools against each other, in the local media no less. After the great
teamwork and success of the SOS and Y/YY campaigns last year, the last thing you
should want to do is engage in a process that undermines the goodwill and team
spirit generated by those efforts. Tragically, the process you have directed to
date has been community-destroying, not community-building. As a voter,
taxpayer, and SMMUSD parent, I expected more from you.

8. Give Ms. Lyons a Break: Our new superintendent has been on the job for
barely 3 months and you have tasked her with developing a policy that has the
potential to tear SMMUSD apart. While you are busy doing your own homework,
give her reasonable and adequate time to do hers. The radical change you are
contemplating isn’t something that should be done rashly or in great haste. If
you continue to proceed in that fashion, your end product will lack the
integrity crucial to its success.

9. Impact on Parent Involvement: PTA fundraising isn’t just about raising
money, it is at least as much about forming community and the bonds within every
Site that contribute significantly to the success of that Site’s student
population. Restrictions on fundraising, therefore, can lead to a disaffected,
non-cohesive parent population, with more migration of committed families to
private schools. This would be a very negative, though hopefully unintended,
effect of a revised policy on fundraising.

In conclusion, the course you’ve set us upon needs a major correction. The
timetable for development of even a mere policy is inadequate in my view, as I
haven’t seen articulated any research or investigation to inform that policy.
Without publicizing the Site budgets and per student spending at each Site,
focusing on PTA budgets is a ludicrous exercise. Leave PTA budgets and
fundraising efforts alone until you’ve done your homework. Following that, only
an open, collaborative, thorough, and inclusive process will yield a workable
proposal with a chance of being embraced district-wide.

Are you willing to take the appropriate time (be it months, a year, or several
years) to engage in this process?

As a Santa Monica citizen, taxpayer, voter, and parent, I look forward to a
prompt response from you regarding all the issues raised in this letter. And I
would welcome the opportunity to discuss my thoughts on this crucial matter with
any of you by phone or in person.

Thanks,
Ann B. Hoover

Amy Young’s Letter to the District

November 3, 2011

Dear Members of the SMMUSD Board of Education–

I am a parent with children at PDMSS and MHS. I couldn’t agree more with Ann
Hoover’s thorough assessment of the situation (see her letter below). The
process needs to be transparent. We need to see per student spending and
line-by-line budget comparisons across schools to understand where the
inequities lie. Only then can we make things better for all children in the
district.

Taking away control from PTA’s to better their schools is absurd and counters
the mission and goals of the PTA. I have served on various PTA Boards for 7
years. The national PTA mission is: “To make every child’s potential a reality
by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all
children.” One of the PTA’s many goals is “to develop between educators and the
general public such united efforts as will secure for all children and youth the
highest advantages in physical, mental and social education.” This means that
the SMMUSD Board needs to work openly and collaboratively with the parents,
teachers and public. This shrouded rush to the table is disturbing at best.

I am hopeful that the Board will come to the tonight’s meeting with open ears
and minds, realizing that the decision made will have an enormous, potentially
disastrous, impact on all children in the district. This is no time for making
a political decision. This is about the children…period.

Amy Young
MHS PTSA Co-1st VP