The school board received a less than warm welcome Thursday evening as it held one of its rare meetings in the city of Malibu. Several Malibu parents blasted the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District leaders for their Oct. 18 decision to slash Malibu High School’s Measure BB capital project funding by $14 million. And a renewed movement was announced for Malibu to create its own school district.
In early October, the Board of Education at a joint session with the Measure BB Advisory Committee told SMMUSD staff that it supported a plan to give $38.4 million to Santa Monica High School and $27.5 million to Malibu High. Several Santa Monica parents said this was an unfair distribution of the money because Santa Monica High is larger and older. They brought their complaints two weeks later to the Measure BB committee, which in turn proposed a new plan for Santa Monica High to receive $57 million and Malibu High to get $13.5 million. This revision was approved by the school board.
“You had to have known you were playing with fire,” said Malibu City Councilmember Andy Stern, whose son attends Malibu High. “You had to have known by making that decision there would be serious ramifications.”
Stern said when Measure BB was proposed in 2006, he was reluctant to support it. But he decided to endorse the measure after hearing from district officials that he could trust they would be fair.
“That is the last time I will ever vote for a nickel to go to this district,” Stern said. “That is the last time I will ever support anything [because] that trust was wronged.”
Colleen Baum, a Malibu parent who has been involved in the process to decide how Measure BB funding would be designated, said she enjoyed it for many months because people from both cities were working together to decide on the district’s future.
“And now as of Oct. 18 [school board meeting], it’s become an us versus them, which isn’t anything I find exciting,” Baum said.
The funding voted for Malibu High and Santa Monica High is out of a total $149 million of available bond money. The remaining money was designated to Edison Language Academy ($24.5 million), district technology and safety improvements ($10 million) and Olympic High School ($6 million). Thirty-eight million dollars were not designated, and some of that money could eventually go toward Malibu High.
The $14 million taken away from Malibu High was to be used for the construction of a middle school classroom building. The board members justified eliminating the funding because they removed funding for all the middle schools, including the Santa Monica institutions. But the Malibu parents on Thursday said Malibu High is an integrated campus of middle school and high school students, an argument also voiced by the school board’s president and lone Malibu resident, Kathy Wisnicki.
“We’re not talking about a high school campus and a middle school campus…” Wisnicki said. “Because we do have sixth-graders taking classes in the same buildings as 12th-graders, it’s not possible to earmark funds designated just for high school.”
Wisnicki, who did not attend last month’s meeting because she had a physical injury, asked the district staff to come back with a new recommendation after considering the fact that Malibu High is a campus for middle and high school students. She was unable to get any other board members to support her request. Instead, her colleagues said the matter should go to the Measure BB committee, which meets again on Nov. 19 at 4 p.m. at Malibu City Hall. This will be the committee’s first meeting in Malibu.
Several times during Thursday’s meeting, board members attempted to discuss some of the issues concerning Measure BB funding, but district staff halted them before much could be said since the issue was not on the agenda. State law prohibits discussion by public officials of items not on the agenda. The parents complaining about last month’s vote were speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting when residents can talk about any issue they want.
Several parents also voiced their support for Malibu severing ties with Santa Monica, and creating its own school district. A group of parents are meeting privately to discuss this possibility.
“Our issues are different than Santa Monica’s issues,” said Karen Farrer, who has two children in college that graduated from the district and a daughter attending a Malibu elementary school. “I think it’s time that we really do part amicably and go our separate ways, and allow each of our communities to work on the issues that are most important to us.”
The creation of a Malibu school district is not a new idea. In 1980, Malibu activists submitted a secession petition to the county. The Board of Supervisors voted against it, and the process died. The issue came up again in the early 1990s during the formation of Malibu High. That never took off once it was decided that the city did not have the facilities or the tax base to support a district. Then in 2004, a group was formed called Malibu Unified School Team, or MUST. It hired a former State Board of Education member to conduct a study. He determined Malibu had the means to form its own district. The group held a well-attended community meeting, and then received a promise by the school board that it would endorse the secession as long as MUST collected signatures from 25 percent of the Malibu voters. Shortly after that, MUST disappeared.