Malibu Takes Steps To Defect From SMMUSD

Friday, 2 Dec 2011, 12:42:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

The SMMUSD could be losing an “M” if a local city council has its way. Malibu City Council members on Monday supported a petition at its meeting for its city to cut ties with the current Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to create its own public school governing body.

The unanimous vote came one day before the SMMUSD vote on a controversial centralized fundraising system that, some argue, would provide a more democratic distribution of money amongst the district’s member schools.

“The Schools Subcommittee has been researching the concept of Malibu forming its own school district – and separating from the SMMUSD,” Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen wrote in a memorandum to council members. “In addition, various members of AMPS (Advocates of Malibu Public Schools) and other Malibu education community members have expressed interest in pursuing this process.”

According to Thorsen’s statement, Malibu Mayor Zahn Rosenthal, Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte, some SMMUSD board members, and other officials have discussed the prospects of forming a new Malibu school district.

Based on those meetings, both Rosenthal and La Monte returned to Malibu City Hall on Nov. 28 to seek the support of their colleagues on a petition calling for the creation of an independent Malibu school district.

“Our voice is not heard, and it has not been heard for a very long time,” La Monte said when he explained why Malibu should separate from the SMMUSD. “They (the school board) don’t listen to us. We can’t even get it on the agenda for them to think about putting an advisory member on.”

The unanimously supported action calls for a joint petition between SMMUSD’s Board of Education and the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica.

“We believe it’s time for – the two cities and the school district – to work together to get enough information to see if this is going to be viable,” Rosenthal said. “We are asking for a consensus.”

Once a petition inclusive of all interested parties is put together and submitted, Los Angeles County officials will review it and submit it to a feasibility study.

“Once a valid petition is submitted, the County Committee will study the feasibility of this petition. A united front among all the entities will be a key factor in the success of this petition,” Thorsen wrote. “The goal is to build consensus within a joint petition group. This joint petition would present an agreement in principle among these entities in regard to distribution of resources, taxes, facilities, joint use agreements and other relevant issues.”

A joint resolution including the Board of Education appears to be the most feasible approach for Malibu to present its case to the County. A petition including the signatures of 25 percent of Malibu voters would be the other avenue the municipality could take, which would involve a 30-day verification process followed by two months of public hearings held by the L.A. County Committee on School District Reorganization.

Under either approach, the county requires 120 days of deliberations after everything is submitted before a decision is reached.

The factors affecting the county’s decision to divide a school district include how education quality is affected, the new distribution of racial diversity, and fiscal impact.

Among the key fiscal considerations is the role that Measure BB would play in a new Malibu school district, should it actually be created.

Passed by the voters in 2008, Measure BB issued $268 million in bonds for repairs and renovations of several schools with outdated classrooms, bathrooms, plumbing, leaky roofs, computer technology, and fire safety equipment.

It is unclear whether Malibu taxpayers would be subject to paying more money into Measure BB should the SMMUSD be split into two.

Though it is a joint district, Malibu feels it has been underrepresented on the board. A quick glance at the current board members reveals why: All seven are Santa Monica residents.

The last Malibu resident to serve on the board was Kathy Wisnicki. Her tenure ended in 2008.

Only four of the 16 SMMUSD schools are within Malibu’s city limits: Malibu High School (both a middle school and high school); Juan Cabrillo Elementary School; Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School; and, Webster Elementary School.

One resident, a father to a first grader at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, believed the status of those four schools could be greatly elevated if an independent Malibu School District is created.

“We can establish a truly special school district and an outstanding educational community,” Malibu resident and parent Kevin Shankman said, adding there are several school districts across California, such as in Hermosa Beach, that are small in size yet are viably functioning.

However, one dissident at the council meeting was not convinced separating from SMMUSD was the best course of action.

“I think it’s an ill-conceived idea and I think it’s something Malibu cannot afford to undertake at this time,” Mike Sidley told the council, adding Malibu area schools greatly benefit from the $13.5 million SMMUSD allocates district-wide. “Malibu participates in and enjoys a significant amount of those resources. Unfortunately, the City of Malibu just cannot match those resources.”

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