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|Malibu's Split from Santa Monica Would be Costly, School District Report Finds|
By Jason Islas
May 4, 2012 -- Splitting the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District could be costly, especially for Malibu, where a secession movement has been gaining momentum, according to a preliminary report issued by District officials.
The report, prepared by the district's Chief Financial Officer, Jan Maez, found that if Malibu were to split from the district, its newly formed school system would face an operating deficit to $2.4 million. Santa Monica's budget deficit would stay at around $4 million.
“The district usually runs an operating deficit of $4.6 million,” Maez said of the existing district, which serves both upscale beach cities. The $2.4 million increase on Malibu's side would come primarily from the overhead costs, she said.
But the deficit question isn't the only one facing proponents of the district split, District officials said.
The district has a number of general bond obligations, and one of the key issues officials would need to tackle is figuring out how that debt gets distributed, Maez said.
The School Board on Thursday decided to move ahead with the preliminary process by preparing a report that could cost as much as $40,000 detailing the impacts of dividing the district.
“Advocates from Malibu schools and the Malibu City Council have offered to pay for the study,” said Board President Ben Allen. “This is an incredibly complex government entity,” Allen said of SMMUSD, and there is a lot to understand.
“For this to work, we need all the key stakeholders to come to the table and agree,” Allen added.
The next step, he said, would be to find a former SMMUSD Chief Financial Officer, someone who understands the complexity of the system, to do a comprehensive feasibility study.
The voters of Malibu would also need to be polled to gauge the extent of interest in seceding from SMMUSD and if they would support a parcel tax, which would require two-thirds of the vote.
But having the studies done is important, said Allen, so “the folks in Malibu would have the information at their finger tips and would be able to use it to make a decision.”
Malibu residents are discontented with their lack of representation on the School Board, which is composed of seven Santa Monica residents, Malibu City officials said.
“They do not listen to us, and our voice hasn't been heard in a long time,” Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte said at a Malibu City Council meeting in November.
Several proponents of secession pointed to a controversial district-wide fundraising policy that would prevent donations to fund special programs at specific schools, instead funneling that money into a general fund to be distributed to schools across the district.
Any money a Malibu district would gain from splitting with SMMUSD would not come at the expense of Santa Monica, but would be paid by the State, which would make up for budget shortfalls, Maez said.
And under a secession, both districts “would have to face the reality of budget reductions” resulting from current State budget cuts, Maez said.
“It's a tough time for schools,” she said.
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