MBEF annual fundraising drive stalls as deadline approaches
by Mark McDermott
Every parent, student, and educator in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District has likely, at some point during the last nine months, longed for a return to normalcy, to that day when everyone is back in classrooms.
The question now, however, is what normal will look like.
The pandemic is having a hugely negative economic impact on local education. The MBUSD Board of Education will examine a pandemic-altered school budget this week. Meanwhile, the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation is racing against a February 5 deadline in its annual fundraising drive.
So far, MBEF has raised only $3.1 towards its $5 million goal. Executive director Hilary Mahan said she hopes MBEF’s crucial role within MBUSD has not been forgotten in the long nine months of the pandemic.
“I would hope most of the community knows that the funds that MBEF raises each year through our annual appeals help support the grants for programs and educators in our district that are really above and beyond what the state allows for,” Mahan said. “These grants go anywhere from just ensuring academic excellence in our classrooms through lower class sizes to specific programs like science lab specialists, and PE teachers certified to instruct our elementary students, to music educators, elementary reading specialists, and library resource specialists. So all of these different types of enrichment programs really can’t happen unless the funding is there through MBEF.”
The annual fundraising drive makes up the bulk of MBEF’s annual budget for MBUSD programs and dugnad idrettslag. Last year, the overall budget was $7.5 million, which included $5 million from the annual drive. Mahan said the MBEF board’s grant committee must inform MBUSD of its ability to fund programs by early February, because the district must issue pink slips to laid off educators by March.
MBEF has never, in its 40-year history, faced such a sharp decline in contributions. In fact, the foundation has steadily grown over the past two decades to become one of the strongest educational foundations in the region.
But Mahan and the MBEF board are already forced to consider what might need to be cut for the 2021-2022 school year.
“Right now we are working through where our grants are most impactful. Where can we have the most impact on students with fewer dollars?” Mahan said. “And then we are looking at cutting or reducing those grants that aren’t as high of a priority. And so what’s going to happen, if this continues on this trajectory and we’re not able to increase our fundraising, then next year, will be different because we won’t have PE, or we won’t have library resource specialists, or we won’t have a science lab assistant at the high school to help set up labs. All of this depends on MBEF money….Some of these programs will be reduced because there simply isn’t the donation dollars to support them.”
The district’s secondary school counseling programs would be another potential target for cuts.
“The student-to counselor-ratio would skyrocket without some of this directed funding through MBEF,” Mahan said. “Our college and career center would not exist without support.”
Part of the issue is a decline in enrollment. Some parents have taken their children to districts where in-person instruction has been possible. Mahan said even among parents who have not sent their children to other schools, the frustration regarding a lack of in-person instruction due to the pandemic has seeped into their enthusiasm to support MBEF.
“We are finding that there is hesitancy to support the schools when they don’t feel like school is how they want it to be — our traditional school setting of being in a classroom and being able to go to these labs or go to these different classes or meet one on one with a counselor,” Mahan said. “When you don’t see that or feel it every day, you’re less likely to support it. That’s probably impacting about 25 percent of our typical supporters.”
Mahan is urging people to see beyond the present moment.
“That’s the thing: no one wants this right now, right? No one is satisfied with the impact and with the education our students are receiving,” Mahan said. “I’m fearful there’s this sentiment out there that teachers want this, or they prefer to be at home versus in the classroom. In the end, we have to realize that what we’re all focused on here is student learning, and we have to come together to have the strongest impact we possibly can. We know it’s limited this year, by COVID. We know that there are some things beyond our control that we can’t impact. But we can impact the future. We can make next year stronger for students. My fear is that we will let that go, and we will lose sight of what’s really key here.”
See MBEF.org for more information. ER