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Malibu Starts Ball Rolling on Secession  

By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

November 29, 2011 -- The Malibu City Council voted to set the gears in motion to secede from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Monday, one day before the School Board is scheduled to vote on a contentious gift policy.

Malibu Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal and Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte, who make up Malibu's Subcommittee on Education, asked the Council to move forward with a plan to petition the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization to form an independent school district.

“We believe it's time for the two cities to work together and to get enough info to work on an agreement to see it's viable,” said Mayor Zahn Rosenthal at Monday's council meeting.

The vote would “allow for initial talks between the city [of Malibu] and the school district, as well as the City of Santa Monica,” said Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen.

Zahn Rosenthal explained that the process – called an “entity petition” – would be a collaborative effort between the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica, as well as the school district, at the request of the L.A. County Committee on School District Organization.

Once the petition is submitted, the Committee would then conduct a feasibility study before it approves the creation of a Malibu district.

Mayor Pro Tem La Monte clarified that this move is about “the representation that Malibu does not have on the school board.”

“They do not listen to us and our voice hasn't been heard in a long time,” he said.

Malibu has not had a Malibu resident on the board since Kathy Wisnicki decided not to run for reelection in 2008.

Zahn Rosenthal said that the decision to move forward with petition “has nothing to with... district-wide fundraising,” adding that the decision to split from SMMUSD was made a year ago, well before the School Board began considering a district-wide fundraising policy.

However, several speakers specifically pointed to the district-wide fundraising policy as the final straw and the reason they would support a split from SMMUSD, with one parent calling the proposed policy “well-intentioned but horribly misguided.”

The question of Malibu leaving SMMUSD has come up several times over the years. The last time the issue came to the forefront was in 2004, when then-Superintendent John Deasy pushed forward a divisive revision to the district's gift policy that would require 15 percent of private donations be contributed to a centralized Equity Fund.

At the time, the Malibu council voted to a go a different and less collaborative route by collecting signatures from 25 percent of Malibu's electorate, as opposed to the “entity position” path, which is a collaborative effort.

The movement came to naught.

The discussion Monday night was a preliminary one, and several council members said that before any real action can be taken, they need to know more about the logistics of splitting from the district.

“Anything we're going to do will have to be supported by the voters,” said Council member Pamela Conley Ulich at Monday's meeting. She added that the decision will come down to money.

It is still unclear what the financial impact will be on Malibu, since according to City Attorney Christi Hogin no city money can legally be spent on public education or to fund the formation of a new school district.

Zahn Rosenthal told the council that the amount of community support left her little doubt that the people of Malibu would step up to donate time and money to the effort.


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