School Independence Committee Crosses ‘T’s and Dots ‘I’s

The committee negotiating the separation of Malibu from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District met Monday evening at Malibu City Hall to put the finishing touches on their final report that should be presented to the school board and the general public by next month.

Six committee members, including Malibu Unification Negotiation Committee member and Malibu City Council member Laura Rosenthal, spent two hours fine tuning the report that details the results of 10 months of work on every aspect of what is called “unification” — that is, establishing Malibu’s own school district apart from its longtime partnership with Santa Monica. 

Disparities between the two noncontiguous coastal communities led to an overwhelming number of Malibu residents expressing support for an independent Malibu district. The wave of popular demand led to city council throwing official support behind the movement in August 2015.

Just months later, a wrench was thrown in the gears of a smooth separation, in the form of new financial information that suggested Santa Monica would be better off if it stayed with Malibu.

Bitterness ensued, with Malibu residents referring to money offered to Santa Monica as “alimony” or “child support,” but over time, negotiations turned positive, according to committee members.

The committee spent two hours Monday evening editing and refining term sheets explaining acronyms (such as COLA, or “cost of living adjustments”) including providing details and responding to suggestions for improving clarity and explanations of complicated subjects concerning unification and its economic impact on both communities.

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Much of the meeting was spent on how to articulate the concepts to be included in the report. Each paragraph was painstakingly negotiated among the committee members and a facilitator, Karen Orlansky. Committee members pored over every word, carefully choosing and replacing terms and verbs in order to state as clearly as possible the complexities and dynamics of creating two distinct school districts.

The committee worked well together — a relief following together a decidedly rocky beginning for the group. In April 2015, one of the original members of Malibu’s negotiations team, attorney Kevin Shenkman, found himself in hot water after his decision to sue the City of Santa Monica over alleged voting rights violations.

Shenkman resigned and was replaced by adjunct Pepperdine Law professor, attorney and Malibu resident Makan Delrahim, and negotiations with the Santa Monica team continued smoothly since then.

Now, it’s just a matter of clarifying language.

“I think what’s important is that we want it to be understandable to people,” Rosenthal said. “We want it to be comprehensive and accessible. We want to get it right. It’s very important that we go over it detail by detail to make sure that we really are explaining the work we did over the last 10 months.”

The report should be done by the end of the month and then soon presented to the SMMUSD Board, both city councils and the public. All the MUNC meeting minutes and more details of the unification are available on the SMMUSD and Malibu City websites.

Should all sides find the results favorable, the separation will appear on an upcoming ballot before Malibu voters.

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