The growing gap between government funding and the cost of educating our children has created a crucial opportunity for cooperation between parents, teachers and bureaucrats.
The Manhattan Beach Education Foundation is in the perfect position to take advantage of that opportunity.
As Manhattan Beach residents know, over the past 20 years the Ed Foundation has gradually become a major funding source for our schools. The organization, begun in 1983, operates as a non-profit. Its board—which includes parents, PTA presidents and community members—allocates donations that have recently exceeded $4 million per year. Current foundation President Erika White and Susan Warshaw, executive director, navigate the Byzantine system of school finance in order to dispense funds which have become an increasingly large piece of our budgetary pie.
This "private" funding does not arrive without caveats. Certainly, teachers in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District are fortunate to have the financial support of area parents. Through the Ed Foundation, parents can "vote with their checkbooks" to keep programs they feel benefit their children.
This idea of "voting with a checkbook," however, should give us pause. It is true that contributions to the foundation are in capable hands and the integrity of the stewards of these funds has been proven over time.
As a teacher myself, I appreciate their fidelity to both the donors and the beneficiaries of the funds—especially in light of well-publicized and unprecedented betrayal of the public's trust in governmental and financial institutions of late. However, the donors to this fund—including me—might benefit from questioning our own motives.
Over the years, I've consistently supported the Ed Foundation. Does that entitle me to stipulate that my money only go to support programs from which my children benefit? My high school-aged son/daughter plays violin, my middle-schooler enjoys yearbook, my second-grader participates in Young at Art and benefits from "reasonable class sizes" in grades one through three. What expectation should I have that my contributions will be used to benefit those causes?
Ideally, I would argue, none at all.
Donating to the Ed Foundation is a vote for public education. By writing a check, we offer our confidence that this system—promoted by Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey among others—can continue to function as originally designed.
The original role of the Ed Foundation—as a supplement to the budget—has expanded to the point that its support is now essential to maintaining school programs. The potential for donors to expect some correlation between personal donation and direct tangible benefit damages the concept of "equal opportunity for all." The Ed Foundation is not an endowment at a private school; it is a revenue stream which supports public programs.
We place our trust in the goodwill of public servants, teachers such as myself as well as this newer breed—the Ed Foundation executive—to labor in the best interest of our children.
The misconception arises, however, that a donation to the foundation entitles a benefactor to direct the use of those funds. In this way, we begin to grease the wheels for our own personal gain instead of supporting the cause of education as a civic virtue.
After our children pass through MBUSD, how many of us will continue to contribute to the Education Foundation?
I can't say that I will, but I rationalize that my lack of financial contribution is balanced by the devotion of my entire adult life to the education of other people's children.
We should not consider our gift to the schools one which we offer with contingencies. We should trust the many professionals who labor with the best intentions to spend the money in the interest of public education. Programs and teachers which are our pets may suffer during some years and benefit during others. Our support for the foundation should not wax and wane depending on our own personal investment in its use.
Shawn McMullen Chen is an English teacher at Mira Costa High School.