Guest Column: Equity and Fairness Have Disappeared

Dr. Ben Drati

Letter addressed to Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman: We have been working in good faith with the Malibu City Council to find an approach that allows the separation of the SMMUSD into two separate districts with equity and fairness for all students as the guide. We had achieved substantial progress toward an equitable financial solution and then the pandemic struck. 

Last week, without contacting the district, the Malibu City Council abandoned our collaboration, making a unilateral decision to reinstate the petition it filed with the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) on Aug. 31, 2017. We are disappointed in what appears to be a retreat to a position we thought we had all moved beyond in our discussions. We are deeply skeptical of what we’ve seen thus far. 

From what was shared at the city council meeting on Oct. 12, it appears that Malibu has chosen to move forward with an approach that would separate SMMUSD into two very unequal districts—where Santa Monica students receive approximately half of what Malibu students will receive on a per-student basis within five years. Equity and fairness appear to have disappeared from the formula. 

The presentation slide shown at the Malibu City Council meeting clearly illustrates the inequities in estimated per pupil funding anticipated by the city’s petition. Their consultants’ projections show Malibu starting at $16,494 per student, while students in Santa Monica would be funded at $13,592. Based on the Malibu formula for revenue growth, in year five, Malibu students will receive $25,998 per student, while Santa Monica per student funding will be $14,264: a five-year growth rate of 58 percent in Malibu vs. 5 percent in Santa Monica. To further disadvantage Santa Monica students, that nominal annual growth is based on a set of assumptions for local revenues in Santa Monica that are unrealistic.

On top of the inequitable terms being pursued, this action comes at a time when we are all addressing a worldwide pandemic. Our teachers, administrators and staff are all working hard to provide the best distance learning education possible for all students in Malibu and Santa Monica. The district is following comprehensive county protocols in preparation for schools to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.  

The school board voted to oppose the petition originally filed by the City of Malibu on Dec. 14, 2017, that is apparently now being revived by the Malibu City Council. Our consultants and staff will be preparing a detailed analysis and response to the Malibu City Council’s petition in preparation for the upcoming public hearing that will be scheduled by LACOE.

On behalf of the children and families of both Santa Monica and Malibu, SMMUSD remains open to returning to the negotiating table in order to continue working collaboratively towards a thoughtful and strategic plan that will allow for the successful creation of two new school districts.

If the Malibu City Council chooses to return to the negotiating table and embraces a genuine effort to address equity concerns seriously, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District delegation is committed to continuing to work together to find an equitable solution that ensures fairness to both of what will be newly created districts. We are firmly focused on the future.