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Malibu Faces Lengthy Process to Break from Santa Monica  


By Jason Islas
By Lookout Staff

March 6, 2012 -- Malibu's secession from the School District will take a lengthy process that ultimately will hinge on finances and a decision by state officials on whether to bring the plan before the voters of Santa Monica and Malibu, the School Board learned last week.

But Malibu officials told the board during last Thursday's information session that despite the complicated process that will take more than a year, Malibu residents seem ready to move forward.

The process, which is called unification, “is a lengthy legal process with a lot of checks and balances along the way,” said Matthew Spies, a spokesman with the Los Angeles County Board of Education.

A territory wishing to secede from another district would need to submit a petition to the 11-person County Committee on Reorganization for review, Spies said. After that, public hearings in both Santa Monica and Malibu would be held.

Then, the Committee would conduct a feasibility study to answer questions about the effect the break up would have on each territory, including the financial impacts.

However, the final decision would lie with the State Board of Education, Spies said. Even if everything were to go smoothly, it could take at least a year before the State would consider the split.

If the State accepts the proposal, it would go to a vote within the concerned areas, he said.

Malibu's secession would have an as yet uncalculated impact in both Santa Monica and Malibu on facilities bonds and parcel taxes, district officials said.

“The main issue is going to be a financial question,” said School Board member Oscar de la Torre.

At the meeting, Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal said that Advocates for Malibu Public Schools – an organization that has pushed for secession for years – as well as other community members were willing to raise money to study the impacts secession would have on each community.

Although the possibility of Malibu seceding from the district has come up in the past, de la Torre said, this is the first time that the Malibu City Council is actively pursuing it. ("Malibu Starts Ball Rolling on Secession," November 29, 2011)

Rosenthal first announced that Malibu would seek information about how to secede at a tense School Board meeting in late November, when the Board approved a controversial gift policy that prevents donations to individual schools to pay for teachers, personnel or “premium” programs.

Although Rosenthal said that the decision to pursue secession was not related to the controversial gift program, many residents of Malibu turned out to protest the gift policy. ("Santa Monica - Malibu School Board Approves Controversial Gift Policy," December 1, 2011)

Board members were split about what to do next at Thursday's meeting.

Staff recommended that the Board steer clear of working in conjunction with Malibu activists as they performed their studies, saying that it would appear to be giving tacit permission for the district to split.

Board member Maria Vasquez said that she was reluctant to collaborate with Malibu when she disagreed with the idea of secession.

Board member Jose Escarce said that any decision would be impossible without more information.

In the end, Board members asked staff to look into which questions needed to be answered to further the discussion on secession and to look into the costs for consultants to gather that information.

It is clear that should Malibu continue with this process, it would be a long time before any conclusive action is taken.


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