Malibu residents gear up to campaign for a separate school district.
By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor
With overwhelming support coming from Santa Monica voters, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s $346 parcel tax proposal, Measure R, received far more than the two-thirds majority needed for passage. The measure earned 23,276 votes (72.51 percent) in favor and 8,826 votes in opposition.
There was some speculation that Malibu residents, angry about the Board of Education’s perceived mistreatment of the city in recent months, could kill the tax proposal, but it still received 55.1 percent of the Malibu vote in favor (1,777 to 1,448). However, the biggest support came from Santa Monica, where 77.42 percent of voters cast “yes” ballots (16,642 to 4,854) for the measure.
“We now have a reliable and stable source of school funding for programs we consider essential and vital for the well-being of our students,” said Kathy Wisnicki, Malibu’s lone member on the Board of Education.
The tax will be charged annually to district residents, with the cost going up in the future to accommodate inflation. Measure R, which will generate approximately $10.4 million, is actually a renewal of two taxes set to expire in 2009 ($225 Measure S) and 2011 ($121 Measure Y). There is no expiration date on Measure R. Residents 65 and older can file for exemptions.
A number of Malibu residents had spoken out against Measure R because the Board of Education in October reduced the amount of facilities improvement bond measure money directed to Malibu High School from a district staff-recommended $27.5 million to $13.5 million. The board refused to reverse its decision despite being asked by Malibu residents at several board meetings that followed. The board will vote on this request again next month, with some expecting a reversal to finally come.
Laura Rosenthal, who has led campaigns in favor of district tax proposals in the past, warned that a “no” vote was needed on Measure R because the school board “needs to right some wrongs before we go ahead and continue to give them extra money.” When asked if she felt the measure’s passage means the board will be even less sympathetic to Malibu’s needs, Rosenthal said, “Time will tell.”
She added, “I think it’s just time to move forward, and that’s what I’m concentrating on right now. I’m finishing our petition drive and moving forward with the reorganization [of a separate Malibu school district].
Rosenthal and about a dozen others spent Election Day collecting signatures in support of the exploration for creating a Malibu school district. Twenty-five percent of the number of voters in the Malibu area (including non-city district areas such as Sunset Mesa) who voted in the November 2006 election must be received. Previously, the reorganization proponents thought they needed 25 percent of the entire registered voting population of Malibu. Rosenthal said she received several hundred signatures last week, and the group has received about 60 percent of the signatures needed. She said she expects to have enough signatures by April.
In addition to the signatures, an application must be submitted to the county, which will make a recommendation and forward it to the state. Malibu High School PTA President Sandy Thacker, a supporter of reorganization, said if Measure R had failed to pass, the process would have been more difficult.
“The first step is for the county to do a financial analysis of both cities and the district in general,” Thacker said. “The passage of Measure R will help us.”
In the closing days of the campaign, the pro Measure R campaign placed two advertisements in this newspaper and wrote several letters to the editor. Thacker said the last-minute blitz was needed.
“A lot of us were disappointed with the coverage in the paper because it was negative toward the measure,” Thacker said. “Those of us who were supportive of it wanted to make sure we got our thoughts in.”
Wade Major, a Malibu resident for his entire life and an opponent of every school district tax proposed since he began voting, said he was not disappointed, but rather energized, by the election result.
“I think it means we finally have the momentum we need to break away from Santa Monica,” Major said. “What the vote proved by sheer numbers is that Santa Monica can impose its will on Malibu. And that despicable city just a little bit to the east of us will continue to violate Malibu until we form our own district.”
Major added that he was pleased the Malibu vote was less than two-thirds in favor of the measure, noting the “yes” campaign sent out several pamphlets and had advertisements. In contrast, not much money in either city was spent against the proposal.
“What it says to me is despite the overwhelming propaganda, 45 percent of Malibu residents still voted against it,” Major said. “That’s all they were able to get out of us despite the heavy lobbying.