Robb Fulcher

Main Event matters – Peninsula schools and the LAUSD

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Peninsula Education Foundation co-chairs Michelle Fullerton and Matthew Rener. Photo courtesy of PEF. Photo by Diane Miller

by Robb Fulcher

Despite the Peninsula’s affluence of the community Peninsula’s 17 public schools require tireless private fundraising to help pay for basic functions. Matthew Rener and Michelle Fullerton who have made that fundraising their mission.

Rener and Fullerton are reaching the end of their terms as co-presidents of the Peninsula Education Foundation. Their most important fundraiser is the upcoming Main Event, an 80s-themed gala at Terranea Resort.

But they have also focused their efforts on fundraisers with broad community participation. An example is the yearly Skechers Pier to Pier Friendship Walk

“Throughout the year we are constantly out speaking to families, parents, teachers – every year there is a brand-new set of families going through the district, and educating them is an ongoing process,” said Rener.

He and Fullerton point out that since the late 1970s, local property taxes that fund the schools have moved from the community to Sacramento, where they are redistributed based on a state formula.

Fullerton said the formula steers financial help to less affluent school districts. As a result, Palos Verdes public schools are not funded as well as the local property tax values might suggest.

“We get 40 percent less funding per child than the average school in the Los Angeles Unified School District,” Fullerton said.

Money raised by the Education Foundation pays for librarians, music and PE teachers, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. It also pays for tech support to keep the classrooms electronically linked. This school year, it covered $1.1 million in teacher salaries.

Money raised through the PEF pays for “Parent University,” which brings in experts on education. The money supports academic counselors, allowing the school district to maintain a 1-to-350 counselor ratio with the students, compared to a statewide ratio of 1-to-950.

Fullerton, whose son Peter is a high school sophomore and daughter Danielle is in seventh grade, became involved with the PEF as a donor, and a parent representative, when her Peter was in kindergarten.

Rener, whose daughter Hannah is in college and daughter Emmy is in high school, also became involved with the PEF when his oldest child was in kindergarten.

“I discovered what made [Silver Spur Elementary School] amazing,” he said. “Part of it is the community. Part is, of course, the great teachers. And the third part is the Peninsula Education Foundation, how it helps support a lot of programs that would not be there otherwise.”

The first Main Event attended by Rener and his wife Allyson was memorable for a torrential storm that sent a thick stream of rainwater through the center of the event tent, set up on the old Marineland grounds where Terranea now stands.

The event was formal – men in tuxedos and women in full length gowns. Rener recalls the gowned ladies navigating a watery floor of artificial grass.

“It was like ‘A River Ran Through It.’ But it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits,” he said.

His participation in the PEF grew into a roughly decade-long stint as a trustee, and his co-president position.

The co-presidents are busy people. Fullerton is a wealth manager and Rener owns a home design business. Nevertheless, they approach their PEF mission with an enthusiastic headlong plunge.

“We attend a lot of meetings together, and we also tag-team,” Fullerton said.

“I like to say we divide and conquer when have to, and we meet in the middle when we can,” Rener said. “Michelle and I are both super, super busy people, and it helps to be organized. Michelle is one of the most organized people I know.”

Kristin Curren, development director for PEF, said, “Rener has been a pillar of our community in a real quiet way. He doesn’t want the spotlight, he’s just out there working all the time. And he’s very motivating. He gets people excited.”

Curren noted Rener’s attention to the personal touch, hand-writing thank-you notes and sending homemade Valentines to donors.

Christine Byrne, executive director of the PEF, said, “Fullerton absolutely loves getting on the phone and talking with our donors, and all of our constituents.

“She’s a wonderful representative of PEF when she speaks in front of the PTAs and the other community groups.”

The legacy of the outgoing presidents includes increase Palos Verdes involvement in the Skechers Pier to Pier Walk.

Skechers approached the PEF about the pier to pier walk about a decade ago. At the time, the PEF had been planning a new fundraising event, with an emphasis on fun and community participation. The Skechers walk fit the bill.

The first year, operating with just a couple months’ notice, the Palos Verdes contingent mustered 175 walkers.

“I saw it had the potential to become big,” Rener said.

He led a “systematic” effort to broaden Palos Verdes participation, working with teachers, the PTA and the Foundation’s school representatives, holding pizza-party contests to boost individual schools’ involvement.

The first year of the walk, Peninsula schools received a check for $7,500. Nine years later, the most recent walk earned $240,000 for PV schools.

The walk also benefits the Friendship Foundation, which works with schools to bring special needs students together with the rest of the student body.

“This partnership is helping all kids at schools,” he said. “This one is a winner all the way around.”

Other notable fundraisers include The Wine Event, most recently held in a tent in the backyard of Tim and Sandy Armour. It raised $170,000.

And of course there is the Main Event, which is put on with the “diligent” help of 75 to 100 community members, Fullerton said.  

This year’s Main Event, May 12 at Terranea, will be a “Totally 80s Bash,” with dress in the way of shoulder pads, Members Only jackets, uggs and leg warmers. The event will feature three auctions and two raffles. The grand raffle prize is a 2018 Lexus RX Hybrid. High School performers will be the entertainment.

For more on the PEF and the Main Event, see pvpef.org

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