Malibu divided on Measure R


An education activist who has long supported school district taxes is part of the campaign against the measure. Distrust that the board of education will allocate funds fairly is at the forefront of the campaign.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Measure R, the $346 school district parcel tax that will appear on Tuesday’s ballot is being opposed by some Malibu education activists and it is not receiving much support from city leaders.

Although the PTA leaders of all the local schools are supporting Measure R, one of Malibu’s leading education advocates has come out against it. And while the City Council almost always unanimously endorses school taxes, only Mayor Jeff Jennings and Councilmember Ken Kearsley are publicly supporting Measure R. Councilmember Andy Stern opposes it. And Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich and Councilmember Sharon Barovsky have not taken a public stance.

The publishers of both local newspapers have also written editorials against the measure.

“It has definitely made the campaign more of a challenge,” said Board of Education member and Measure R supporter Kathy Wisnicki.

And the proponents have an even tougher task than most campaigns do because Measure R requires two-thirds voter support for passage.

The reason for the opposition is the perception by many in Malibu that the community was mistreated by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education in October when it reduced the amount of facilities improvement bond measure money directed to Malibu High School from a district staff-recommended $27.5 million to $13.5 million.

Meanwhile, the money designated for Santa Monica High School was increased from the staff recommendation. The reduction for Malibu High meant a proposed middle school wing would have to be put on hold. Despite pleas from Malibu residents at several board meetings that followed, the board refused to reverse its decision.

“The school board needs to right some wrongs before we go ahead and continue to give them extra money,” said Laura Rosenthal, who in the past has headed the Malibu-end of campaigns in favor of district taxes, including Measure BB, the $268 million bond measure in 2006 that generated the money the school board controversially designated in the fall.

Rosenthal said she is not concerned a failed Measure R would be harmful to the district. The measure, which would generate $10.4 million annually, is actually a combination of two current taxes that do not expire until 2009 ($225 million Measure S) and 2011 ($121 million Measure Y). If Measure R fails, there will be more election dates to get similar proposals passed.

Rosenthal said if Measure R’s failure actually meant the district would need to fire teachers and cut programs, she would support its passage.

But Wisnicki, the lone Malibu resident on the school board, says it is important to pass Measure R on Tuesday because she fears if it fails, teachers who aren’t tenured will start looking elsewhere for jobs. This is, Wisnicki said, because the teachers will be concerned about being laid off in 2009 if the tax is never renewed.

Malibu resident Heather Anderson agrees with Wisnicki’s argument. “I don’t think we’ll be able to attract the kind of good teachers we need when every two or three years we play these kinds of games with our budget.”

Anderson added that she understands why many in Malibu are frustrated with the school board’s handling of Measure BB money, but she said this is not a reason to vote against Measure R.

“I do not think it’s fair to hold one revenue stream hostage to another,” Anderson said. “I don’t think we gain any power taking that stance.”

Anderson said she is encouraged the school board members have seen the error of their ways, and will soon restore the Measure BB money it cut from Malibu High. Several board members in early January publicly stated they support Malibu’s middle school project. Next month, the board is scheduled to discuss the distribution of an undesignated $62 million in Measure BB funds.

Malibu City Councilmember Stern, who said this is the first year he will be voting against a school district tax, does not share Anderson’s confidence the board will give Malibu High the money, although he said he hopes it happens.

“This Board of Education intentionally ripped off the people of Malibu [in October],” Stern said. “They broke their word [that Malibu would be treated fairly with Measure BB distribution], and I don’t trust them.”

Measure R advocates have also warned its passage is important to help Malibu’s effort to form a separate school district. A group of local parents is working on an application for the county to consider what is known as district reorganization. The county will form a recommendation that is forwarded to the state based on various criteria.

“I think we need to show the county we support parcel taxes, and we don’t play this power game [with Santa Monica],” Anderson said. “If we want to show that Malibu can support its own school district and stand on its own two feet, we need to get parcel taxes passed.”

Rosenthal, who is leading the movement for a Malibu school district, dismissed Anderson’s argument because, she said, the county will receive Malibu’s application prior to 2009, and Measures Y and S will still be in good standing regardless of what happens on Tuesday.

Other features of Measure R include an exemption for people 65 and older, and unlike all past parcel taxes, this one has no expiration date. Proponents say this is so the district can be confident in its budgeting projections, and not have to worry about whether parcel tax money will be available. Many, although not all, opponents say an expiration date is needed.

“The lack of a sunset clause is completely unacceptable,” said Malibu resident Wade Major, who said he has opposed every tax measure proposed by the district since he started voting because he believes the district is financially irresponsible. Major said giving tax money to the district for an unlimited amount of time would do nothing to clean up what he sees as a mismanaged institution.

Polling locations

To find out which is your polling location, go to or call 562.462.2748.

n Precint 2 – Duke’s Malibu, 21150 Pacific Coast Highway

n Precinct 5 – Residence at 20252 Inland Lane

n Precincts 51 and 56 – Malibu West Swim Club, 30756 Pacific Coast Highway

n Precinct 57 – Malibu High School, 30215 Morning View Drive

n Precinct 59 – St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, 28211 Pacific Coast Highway

n Precinct 60 – Point Dume Clubhouse, 29500 Heathercliff Road

n Precinct 62 – Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, 6955 Fernhil Drive

n Precinct 64 – Beau Rivage, 26025 Pacific Coast Highway

n Precinct 208 – Malibu Public Library, 23519 Civic Center Way