The Interim Superintendent, Tim Cuneo, of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD,) Tim Cuneo decided to cancel a benefit comedy concert for the Edison Language Academy on the day it was supposed to take place. According to a District press release, the concert was cancelled on January 11 “due to concerns raised within the community relating to fundraising events on school grounds that may not be consistent with district standards.”
Ralph Mechur, President of the Board of Education told the Mirror the Superintendent made the decision based on discussion among Cuneo, Mechur, and Board Vice-President Barry Snell about the Board’s preferences. He mentioned that the Board only learned last week that there was controversy brewing in the community about the benefit.
The controversy had to due with the type of comedy that one of the benefit’s headliners, Carlos Mencia, does. Mechur explained some in the community found Mencia’s standup routines which focus on race, politics, class, and society to be demeaning, abrasive, and abusive. Such routines, according to District regulations, are not considered appropriate for performance in District facilities.
Mechur admitted that the benefit had received the appropriate approvals at the District level so it could be held before the Board heard about the controversy. He also mentioned that his concern was “we have programs in the District that teach students to be good citizens and treat each other fairly” which is in conflict with a comedian demeaning people.
The School Board President added that the District would host a forum in the near future to discuss the type of events that are appropriate to be held on District grounds.
The Mirror also spoke with Nancy Geshke, who is a Co-PTA President at Edison, who stated, “Edison PTA never meant to offend anyone with the use of a comedian. Our intent of having a benefit was to raise money for our students.” She emphasized that all the artists involved from the get-go had agreed to tone down their acts because it was going to be held on a high school campus.
Geshke also mentioned that the Edison benefit organizers understood the security issue posed by the event. They contacted the Santa Monica Police Department about it, and they were hiring extra security that would be paid from ticket sales. They also advertised that the event was inappropriate for children under the age of 17 but left the decision up to individual parents about bringing their children.
Edison expected to raise $25,000 from the benefit, which they intended to use to help fund crucial programs which may face cuts due to the state budget crisis. Geshke stressed that the Edison student body is made up of more than 50 percent of students from low-income families, so Edison’s fundraising activities can’t raise the type of money their school needs.
Elias Serna, President-elect of the Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) also spoke to the Mirror. He stated that his organization was organizing a protest before the event with picket signs because of the type of demeaning comedy Mencia does.
AMAE met with the Edison PTA to try to get some concessions before the event, but according to Serna no concessions were made. One of the concessions requested was a meeting with Mencia prior to the event about toning down what he called “his hate speech.” The PTA denied this request because Mencia has to get in the mood before the show. The PTA also defended Mencia’s Frst Amendment rights.
Serna noted that during his organization’s discussion with the Edison PTA they stated their future goal of “committing to help raise funds” for school and to assist with culturally relevant projects. They also emphasized the need for the PTA to be culturally sensitive in the future. However, Serna feels the “Edison PTA fundraising committee has still not learned its lesson about cultural sensitivity” because they avoided mentioning that Mencia’s use of racial slurs was the reason for the cancellation in their announcement.
Some of the other comedians that were supposed to perform in the concert were Gabriel Iglesias, Greg Fitzsimmons, an Edison parent, and Sandra Tsing Loh. The following is part of the response Tsing Loh who is a radio commentator and author of Mother on Fire e-mailed the Mirror about the School District’s reason for canceling the event. “In times of a severe California public school budget crisis, this last-minute cancellation of Edison’s $25,000 benefit is Draconian and absurd. There is no way in hell that the foremost concern of those in the community is that school fundraising is consistent with district standards. Actual communities just want their kids to have more. This is exactly why caring, hardworking, responsible parents are fed up by 2009, and turning to revolt. As those of us who give our hearts, minds and lives to our children’s public education every day say, The only problem with tainted money is there’s aint enough of it. I believe Edison should sue SMUSD immediately for the $25,000 lost, plus damages.”
Efforts by the Mirror to contact the other comedians and the School District’s Superintendent for this story by press time were unsuccessful.