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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

December 2, 2015 -- The five Santa Monica residents on the local school district board in attendance at the Nov.ember 19 meeting said they support the formation of a Malibu school district, but they only want it to happen if it would not harm education in either city.

Board members made their comments after hearing from representatives of the District’s Financial Oversight Committee (FOC), of which a majority has reversed an opinion from the summer that neither city’s schools would suffer.

They also heard from more than 30 Malibu residents favoring separation, a process activists from that city have been working toward for several years.

“I will free your people, let me tell you,” Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez said. “Because we have been hearing that (Malibu wants its own school district) for a long time. My whole heart is with all the kids.”

But she said she needed to hear more about the financial information. Board member Jose Escarce said some of the statements he heard from separation advocates appeared to be more hopeful than factual that the finances would work out.

“To just hope it will be OK when there are 9,000 children left in Santa Monica who will be experiencing the consequences of my decision for a long time, I can’t take that,” he said. “That’s irresponsible and reckless.”

An FOC report from the summer concluded the finances worked out positively for both cities. But a new one based on adjusted information regarding State funding of education reached the opposite conclusion.

FOC Chair Joan Krenik told the board that separation would have a positive financial impact for Malibu, but for Santa Monica it would have a “material negative impact”

She said it would mean $3.8 million less coming into Santa Monica's schools in 2016-17. This hit would increase each year after that.

Many supporters of separation, which has the odd official name of “unification,” questioned these findings.

They said it is difficult to make accurate long-term projections because of the complexities of education budgets and that the FOC’s focus did not take into account some of the cost burdens a Santa Monica school district would lose if Malibu were to leave.

John Sibert, one of four Malibu City Council members who addressed the board, said, “The numbers are certainly an issue, but it ought to be an issue that’s part of the negotiation, not a deal killer.”

Several board members, including the lone Malibu resident Craig Foster, said they supported creating a committee that would address financial issues, including the negotiation of specifics.

District separation has significant support in Malibu.

Distric separation has long been an issue in Malibu. It came to a head in 2004 when the School District revised its gift policy to to require that 15 percent of private donations be contributed to a districtwide fund restricting parents from donating to specific schools (Malibu Starts Ball Rolling on Secession, November 29, 2011).

The Malibu City Council passed a resolution favoring separation in September and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) announced last month it had collected signatures of support from more than 25 percent of voters in Malibu and the surrounding area.

With these steps taken, a petition can go forward to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), which would set up the process toward a possible ballot measure on district separation.

Various things can happen to slow down or possibly kill the process, including a negative reception from LACOE.

“There’s been nothing that our city has agreed on more than unification,” Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal told the Santa Monica-Mailbu district board at the November 19 meeting. “And yes, there are outliers. But almost to a person, people want this.”

She continued, “This is something that has brought the city of Malibu, and the Greater Malibu community, together. We might not agree about other things, but we all agree about this. How do you ignore that?”

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