In Del Mar, the third time may, indeed, turn out to be the charm.

At least, that’s what the two sides in the simmering debate over equity and the role of private dollars in the public Del Mar Union School District are hoping, as the school board meets this Thursday to consider the relationship between the district and its nonprofit foundation and the way district schools fund their special enrichment programs.

Twice over the past month the school board has attempted to craft a policy for how it deals with more than $1 million in private funds raised each year by the Del Mar Schools Education Foundation. The school board has already agreed to scrap its district-led appeal drive, which had suggested that schools could lose some of their arts, science, technology and music teachers if parents from each school didn’t pay up, something lawyers for the district warned could represent a violation of the state constitution.

Initially, a reformist new majority on the school board attempted to enact new, strict rules on the operations of the independent foundation, rules foundation board members warned would devastate its ability to raise funds. That effort appears all but over. In a “Foundation Operating Plan” released last week, and developed jointly by the foundation, the district would drop most of its demands for reform while the foundation, in exchange, would undergo a thorough review by an independent consultant to assess whether it complies with industry best practices. Among the issues to be reviewed is the compensation paid to the foundation’s full-time executive director, a key point of criticism for foundation opponents. In addition, in an unusual move, the foundation held a special election last week to replace its executive board.

However, the school board remains at odds about whether it should allow parents at individual schools to raise use private donations to hire additional enrichment teachers above the level allocated by the district. Previously, schools were allowed to purchase unlimited enrichment staff, though the new school board majority recommended capping the number at two.

Even that proposal now seems problematic. In a legal opinion sent to the district earlier this month, lawyers warned that the district would likely be forced to continue employing any extra teacher hired at parent behest even if private dollars ran out. One of the three options now suggested by the district staff would prohibit schools from purchasing additional enrichment teachers — something the foundation had previously used as an incentive to encourage parents to contribute money to the schools.

“This option provides the most enrichment equity and the least risk” to the district, Superintendent Tom Bishop wrote in a memo to school board last Monday.

The other two options would allow each school to purchase one additional teacher, though it would have to come up with the funds by June 15.

In a letter to earlier this year, Ginny Merrifield, the former campaign manager for the three school members who won a majority in the board in November, said she saw light at the end of the tunnel.

“Together, with the new executive board of the foundation, this community can now move forward and get fundraising back on track,” she wrote.


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