Could Malibu Split From SMMUSD? Study Takes A Look

Thursday, 19 Dec 2013, 8:29:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

It is not quite a David and Goliath, but the sparsely-populated Malibu and the relatively more dense city of Santa Monica have been at the center of an ongoing question: should the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) split into two to better serve each community’s respective students?

A study funded by a Malibu public education group did not necessarily provide an answer to the aforementioned question, but it did provide some insight as to how a new school district could be created.

Education research firm WestEd stated in a report issued in late November, “a viable pathway exists for pursuing (a separate Malibu school district) while protecting the financial interests of the existing and proposed districts and employee groups.”

One of those groups who seek to split the SMMUSD and create an independent school district in the coastal suburb northwest of Santa Monica is Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, or AMPS.

It was AMPS who funded the WestEd study.

Specifically, the creation of the Golden Valley School District in Central California’s Madera County in 1997 serves as a precedent for those campaigning for a Malibu School District.

“Golden Valley provides an example of a new district formation and may be instructive to demonstrate options for successfully attending to employee group interests, bond management, and starting-up a new district. Several of the issues present in the potential Malibu district formation were present in the formation of Golden Valley,” the WestEd study stated.

The WestEd study addressed three key issues in guiding Malibu officials to determine whether or not to move forward with a secession from the SMMUSD: bond indebtedness, employee rights and collective bargaining, and parcel tax.

WestEnd suggested in its study a bonding authority could be retained, potentially allowing Santa Monica and Malibu to divide existing indebtedness should the existing school board be split into two.

California state law does not provide enough clarity or direction of how property taxes would be split should SMMUSD be reorganized into separate school districts for Santa Monica and Malibu. According to the study, a special state law might have to be enacted to address how to retain existing parcel tax should the school district be split.

The other major issue Malibu officials must consider prior to ceding from the SMMUSD is how to protect employee rights and collective bargaining.

Those working at SMMUSD’s schools in Malibu would be most impacted by a school district split. Specifically, would SMMUSD’s Malibu’s employees still be entitled to the same benefits they currently receive in a new district? Also, would those employees be able to unionize?

Another potential issue, according to the study: when a new school district is formed, an entity would not exist at the outset to provide collective bargaining. However, state law does provide some employee protection during the transition period when the new school district is being formed.

Earlier this year, a similar study reportedly conducted and determined there were enough bond revenues, property taxes, and students to support an independent Malibu school district.

Though it is a joint district, Malibu feels it has been underrepresented on the SMMUSD 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.

In November 2011, the Malibu City Council unanimously supported a petition for its city to cut ties with the current Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to create its own public school governing body.

Malibu residents have an equal right to run for a School Board seat. However, Malibu-area candidates have a smaller voting pool to draw from, meaning they are not likely to garner enough electoral support to gain a seat on the Board.

In 2012, a slate of three Malibu residents – Craig Foster, Karen Farrer, and Seth Jacobson – sought to have the city’s public schools represented on the SMMUSD board.

However, the candidates did not earn enough votes to challenge a slate of Santa Monica residents who retained their respective seats on the SMMUSD board. Foster garnered 11,653 votes, or a 16.01 percent share of the electorate. He had the most votes amongst the three Malibu candidates.

Farrer finished the race with 9,305 votes (12.78 percent) while Jacobson tallied 6,859 votes (9.42 percent).

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.

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