History and Mission
The San Marino Schools Foundation (SMSF) was founded in 1980 as a direct response to significant changes in how public education is funded in California.
Historically, public school districts were funded from local property taxes. This meant that public school districts in high property-value communities like San Marino had a larger tax base to support its schools than communities with lower property values. The resulting disparity in public education funding was the basis for a lawsuit, Serrano v. Priest (affirmed in 1977), in which the California Supreme Court ruled that the system of funding schools from local property taxes was a violation of California’s equal protection clause due to the inherent inequities caused by using property tax dollars as the primary source of funding for public schools. After the Supreme Court’s decision and the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978–which dramatically reduced property tax revenue by putting a lid on annual assessment rates—local property tax revenues were redistributed to school districts on a basis that caused a huge budget deficit for SMUSD. In fact, the formula used by the state left SMUSD with per capita student funding that was 25 percent lower than the California average.
In 1979 these events motivated the Board of Education, at the instigation of its Chair, Bruce McGregor, to establish a Citizens Legal Advisory Committee comprised of five prominent San Marino attorneys: Edmond Davis (Chair), Ralph Erickson, David Destino, Joseph Saunders, and John Sturgeon. McGregor, who served as the School Board’s liaison to the Advisory Committee, charged the Committee with the task of determining how the San Marino community could help fill SMUSD’s funding gap.
After many months of work, the Advisory Committee determined to establish an independent community-led organization, dedicated to the financial support of public education in San Marino. Acting as its initial incorporators in 1980, the members of the Advisory Committee formed the San Marino Schools Foundation, a California public benefit corporation, adopted its initial bylaws, and successfully established its status as a 501(c) corporation. As its founders, the members of the Advisory Committee appointed the Foundation’s initial Board of Trustees, led by Thomas Mack. In its first year, SMSF raised $50,000. In the 40 years since its founding, SMSF has raised over $52 million for the San Marino Unified School District - all thanks to our fantastic community and family supporters.
Since its inception, the mission of SMSF has been quite simple: to raise funds to support the San Marino Unified School District and all four schools within it. SMSF was established as a legal entity separate from SMUSD and cannot make policy decisions as to the spending priorities of SMUSD, which is the responsibility of the elected Board of Education.