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Scott Steepleton, Editor
6:12 am PDT June 28, 2020

Parents at Malibu’s two public elementary campuses have joined forces for a fundraiser they’re calling SOS — Save our Schools.

At issue for Webster Elementary and Malibu Elementary is the prospect of losing teachers aides and the arts and tech programs in the 2020-21 school year.

For years, funding for the programs came from the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation. That entity, said Gail Pinsker, community and public relations officer for the ‎Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District changed to just supporting Santa Monica schools after years of lack of support in Malibu.

In 2018-19, for example, the foundation raised more than $2 million. But contributions from business and individuals in Malibu totaled under $70,000.

"Santa Monica families and donors choose to no longer carry Malibu schools," Pinsker told Malibu Surfside News.

A nonprofit called Malibu LEAD was formed, but for many reasons, including the Woolsey Fire, it never took off.

Pinsker said the district is happy that Malibu parents have stepped up "so that these wonderful programs are not lost."

The district, in a budget crisis, she added, is unable to fill at this time.

Organizers of SOS, who raised about $118,000 before the pandemic hit, are now going directly to the public in hopes that a combination of cash and donations of goods and services to be auctioned off will help them meet their goal for the new school year.

Jessica Butler, mom to a kindergartener at Webster and the school’s incoming communications VP for Webster's PTA, explained the goal to Malibu Surfside News this way: “It’s a tiny thing. We need to raise $275,000 by July 31. No big deal.”

The date is important because that’s when educators look at how much money has been brought in and decide what they can do with it.
In the 2017-18 school year, the school district lost almost $9 million in state funding because it had become a basic aid district, meaning the property tax revenue it collects exceeds the state’s minimum funding requirement and therefore qualifies for little aid from the state.

Basic aid districts are generally more affluent, with higher property values than other districts.

Then in late 2018, hundreds of homes were destroyed in the Woolsey Fire.

That also affected property tax revenue.

While this is bad news on top of bad, Butler said there’s a misconception about the people and programs SOS is targeting.

“The way the schools are funded, these programs were never paid for by the district,” she said. “They’ve always been paid for through fundraising.”

When those efforts fall short, the district makes up the difference.

Butler and the other parents realize they face headwinds, from people out of work because of COVID-19 to a community still reeling from the Woolsey Fire.

“Malibu just burned down, then there was COVID. Now please give us your money,” Butler deadpanned. “In my son’s class, three of his friends lost their homes in Woolsey.”

Then there’s competition from private schools. There’s even uncertainty of what’s in store the next school year.

“Some people will say, ‘Why write a big check when we may or may not be in school in the fall?’” said Butler.

The 12 teachers aides, six at each elementary school, will be important regardless. If kids are back in school, parents won’t be able to volunteer because of COVID. That leaves the aides to make sure students wash up, to take temperatures and other tasks.

If school goes “remote” in the fall, aides could be tapped to help in that scenario as well.

“There’s going to be so much support needed to manage the pandemic,” said Butler. “We’re in an unprecedented situation.”

Donations may be made here or here.