Malibu High cuts teachers; council passes


parcel tax

Pink slips have made the rounds at local schools, with Malibu High losing not only teachers, but custodians, and library and music assistants as well.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to The Malibu Times

Because of the dire financial straits the local school district is facing due recent budget cuts from the state, the City Council last week passed a unanimous resolution to support Measure S, the $225 parcel tax for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

If the tax passes, it will generate $6.2 million for the district. This would allow all of the teaching positions and some of the other programs that were cut by the district as part of its $13.8 million reduction for next year to come back.

“The City of Malibu has always been helpful,” Malibu High School Principal Mike Matthews said. “We are glad to have that support, because it is so important that Measure S passes.”

Matthews said he would like to see that help from the city also translate into more money given to it. Currently, the City of Malibu gives $35,000 to the district. Matthews said he has spoken to the city about increasing that total, as has district Superintendent John Deasy. The district has asked Malibu and Santa Monica to increase contributions by $3.5 million in total between the two cities.

“I am here to be optimistic,” Matthews said. “So I think it is possible that it will happen. I know everybody’s going through tough times, but the schools are really hurting.”

The district has cut $13.8 million from its budget for next fiscal year, because it anticipates receiving that much less funding from the state. This cut includes more than 200 jobs, 10 of them Malibu High School teachers. Five of those are English teachers, the hardest hit program at the school.

The school’s arts programs are hit just as hard. Art teacher Irene Blanchard was notified that she would be laid-off and choir director Irene Messoloras was put on notice as well.

That means larger classes for the students, as the teacher-to-student ratio will be increased from 30-to-1 to 37-to-1. The high school also loses its library assistant and a counselor. And it could be more bad news with some of the districtwide cuts that have not yet been specified by the school such as music accompanists, a lifeguard and athletic aides. Matthews said these additional cuts would be devastating.

Another example of how the budget crisis has affected the school is with its custodians. After one of the five custodians working at the MHS took a leave of absence, the school was unable to hire somebody to take his place. This has left the school with a severe problem, as it has lost 20 percent of its custodial staff.

The Board of Education has grouped its priorities for what it will look to bring back as money is brought into the district. Included in the first package, which is for $6.2 million, are all of the teaching positions and the music accompanists. A second package, which would only be reinstated if the district receives the additional $3.5 million it has asked for from the cities, includes the library assistant position.

Matthews said he is doing all he can to help those who have been informed they may be laid off next year. He said he has offered to help them look for new jobs, and will write them recommendation letters. But he has also encouraged them to wait it out, as he is optimistic about the passage of Measure S.

Measure S is the latest attempt by the district to generate much- needed revenue. Last November, Measure EE appeared on the ballot. It would have created a $300 parcel tax. Although it received a majority of the vote by the people, it failed to garner the necessary two-thirds approval required by state law. The new proposal, in addition to being for less money, includes an exemption for people 65 and older.