Schools remain drastically under-funded

Although the SMMUSD closed with a surplus of $12.96 million last year, the money is restricted leaving school bond funds stretching to fill the gaps.

By Meme McKee/Special to The Malibu Times

In light of rising concern from Malibu residents about allocation of Proposition X and Y school bond funds, John Deasy, superintendent of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, met with community members at an informal coffee meeting last week.

The meeting was sponsored by the Lily’s Caf Steering Committee, which formed last year in response to concerns about Malibu politics and issues.

As he sipped coffee and spoke of an end to “free” public education, Deasy said the SMMUSD, educating approximately 12,600 students (2,300 in Malibu), closed last year with a surplus, a first step in clearing its history of financial woe.

However, according to Kenneth Bailey, assistant superintendent of business and fiscal services, the surplus of $12.96 million was not available for unrestricted use. Moreover, this year the state cut its budget by $1.6 billion, which, for the district, amounts to a $300,000 reduction.

Walter Rosenthal, member of Proposition X Oversight Committee, said, “The real problem is the shortfall of funding at the state level.”

With such cutbacks, the district remains drastically underfunded with most of the district’s funding coming from the state-allotted average daily attendance (ADA), which is approximately $6,500 per student, and through Proposition Y’s parcel tax. Additionally, the school district receives a percentage of state lottery money and money from the city developer’s fees.

Both propositions X and Y are general obligation, multifaceted bonds created to benefit the SMMUSD.

Proposition X’s $42 million bond “to build and modernize school facilities” is in its last year of a four-and-a-half year cycle, said Bailey.

Proposition Y was passed on the 2000 ballot as a special programs tax. Levied on July 2001, the $98 parcel tax (increased from $73) will raise approximately $32 million over its 10-year duration. Annually, Malibu’s share accounts for aproximately $950,000.

Proposition Y’s goal is to continue to attract outstanding teachers and improve instruction and counseling; enhance athletic, music and arts programs; and purchase science materials and computer technology for the schools.

Malibu mother and PTA activist Barbara Bassill said PTA money often funds teachers’ aids, art and music supplies, and even copy machine expenses.

Deasy admitted the district could not survive without the PTA, whose fundraising supports many school programs. Bassill said Malibu has highly involved parent groups, which is fortunate for fundraisers. She commented, though, of still having to pay many out-of-pocket expenses such as $90 for Advanced Placement art.

“My objective as a mother is to have a greater understanding, not to point fingers or blame,” said Bailey. “I’d like to know where the money goes.”

“The money raised solely by Proposition Y does not come close to funding all of the needs,” said Deasy.

Proposition X projects in Malibu include new fields and renovation at Cabrillo Elementary; asbestos-free rooms at Point Dume Elementary; and handicap accesses, football field, an auditorium, a gym and a multi-classroom building at Malibu High School.

Deasy said the project costs at Malibu High were “problematic,” because only one bidder proposed for construction. The decision to accept the high bid forced Proposition X funds to be augmented with profits from developer’s fees.

Deasy said Malibu also has substantially higher transportation costs than other areas, partly because there is no zoned property to store school buses.

Sparking interest in eyes around the room, Deasy said if the buses were parked in Malibu, “it would save a lot of costs.”

The Coastal Commission would have to approve a zoning change.

Deasy proposed having a budget workshop in March “so that the average citizen can understand” where all the money goes.

Steering committee Vice Chair Doug O’Brien asked, “What happened to free public education?”

“It’s not free anymore,” responded Deasy.

Decades ago, legislation, like Proposition 13, “altered the concept of public education,” he explained.

The changes solved the problem of rising property taxes, but left the schools grossly underfunded.

Deasy blames these changes for California’s drop from ranking two in state funding for public education to 48. Such changes have caused many districts throughout California to drop art and music programs altogether.

At the end of the meeting, Committee Chair Tom Fakehany said, “This group is certainly much happier,” and that they would look forward to the budget workshop.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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