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District Asks If Unequal Gifts Skew Equality in Education

May 11, 1986|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

When the financially strapped Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District was forced to cut reading specialists in all the district's elementary schools three years ago, the parents at Roosevelt Elementary School simply raised $10,000 to hire their own.

And when Franklin Elementary School needed money for computers and other supplies, the parents held an auction and in one night last February raised more than $30,000.

But Muir Elementary school couldn't even stage a carnival to raise money for supplies.

Franklin and Roosevelt are in affluent neighborhoods north of Wilshire Boulevard; Muir serves a working-class neighborhood in Ocean Park where parents are too busy for fund-raisers.

The disparity in the fund-raising ability among Santa Monica and Malibu schools has been the subject of a school board debate that centers on whether attempts should be made to provide the same resources to all schools in the district.

From July, 1984, to December, 1985, parents raised $45,000 for Roosevelt and $22,000 for Franklin; $3,500 was raised for Muir.

Equality in Education

School officials applaud the parents' efforts but some question whether the contributions are leading to an unequal education.

According to figures released by the district, Roosevelt raised an average of $55 for each student in the 1984-85 school year; Edison Elementary raised $1.16; Franklin $26.38; Grant $16.80; McKinley $8.97; Muir $11.55; Rogers $15.95; Webster $24.57; Malibu Park $11.11; Santa Monica Alternative School $9.48; Lincoln $7.30; Adams $12.33, and Santa Monica High School $32.57.

The schools use the contributions to hire teaching aides and and pay for field trips and to buy television sets, computers, copy machines, books and other supplies.

School board member Connie Jenkins said that gift-giving is particularly successful in the elementary schools in the more affluent communities on the north side of the city and in Malibu. But Jenkins questions whether it is constitutional to allow one school to raise more money than another.

"Technically it is not a violation of the Serrano decision but it does violate the principle of the decision," she said. The 1974 Serrano decision declared unconstitutional the old school financing system based on property taxes, and the court ruled that funding differences among districts should be no greater than $100 per pupil.

"We want to encourage parents to do good things and provide resources for the schools. I don't oppose that," she said. "But the dilemma is how to create the same options for children who don't go to those schools."

"The implication is that they are doing something that is contrary to the law. I don't think they are," school board member Bob Holbrook said. "People who live in a neighborhood are more likely to give money to a facility they see everyday."

PTA leaders at some of the schools in the more affluent communities disagree with Jenkins. They argue that they need to raise funds to balance the state and federal grants that go to schools with children whose parents are poor or speak limited English. Rogers Elementary receives $141,000 in state and federal funds, compared to $66,000 for Roosevelt.

"We don't qualify for the special programs even though we have some of the same children with special needs," said Jane Jeffries, PTA president at Roosevelt. "We are not getting more than other schools, we are actually trying to match our funds with them."

Much of the parental fund-raising is conducted by PTAs at each school. The parents hold raffles, auctions, bake sales and carnivals and make direct pleas for contributions.

"We should not be penalized for trying to add a few things to our school," said Erica Barbaric, PTA president at Webster Elementary School. "Everybody looks to whatever resources they have to help provide the best for their schools."

She said that if the district tries to restrict the gift-giving, it might force parents to send their children to private schools.

School board President Dick Williams said there is a problem with unequal fund-raising, but that it would not be resolved by requiring funds raised at one school to be shared with another. He said the district needs to find out why some schools are not able to raise money and to help them. "We need to bring them up to the others' level," he said.

Muir PTA President Sylvia Pickett said that parents at Muir work hard for the school but are not able to raise more money. "It is like we are two different worlds," she said. "I don't think the parents on this side of town could spend the time and money that they have" in the more affluent area.

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