City Councilmember: time to consider independent Malibu school district

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Malibu City Councilmember Lou La Monte suggested Monday at the council’s regular meeting it may be time to explore an independent Malibu school district. La Monte expressed frustration with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education, whose seven members all hail from Santa Monica, for what he perceived as its non-accomodating stance to giving the Malibu community a voice in district affairs. When La Monte asked his fellow city councilmembers if they would object to him and Mayor Pro Tem Laura Rosenthal gathering information to weigh the pros and cons of Malibu potentially breaking off from Santa Monica to form its own school district, no other councilmembers expressed opposition.

La Monte voiced particular frustration at the way he and 11 other Malibu residents were asked by the BOE to reduce their time during public comment at its meeting in Malibu Thursday from the customary three minutes to two minutes. The speakers, who were advocating for a permanent, non-voting Malibu seat on the BOE, had carefully tailored their speeches for three minutes, La Monte said, and it were forced to edit them down at the last minute. Technically, it is board policy to limit public comment to a total of 20 minutes. La Monte said it was disappointing the school board would not bend the policy to allow Malibu residents to voice what they feel are legitimate grievances.

“Here [at the Malibu City Council] we cut [public comment] down to two minutes when we have 20 or 30 speakers. But they had 12,” La Monte said. “The board of education refused to invest 12 more minutes in listening to Malibu. And it was very frustrating, and because several people, myself included, prepared 3-minute statements that were very conciliatory and had to be edited down at the last minute.”

La Monte continued that while he believed the BOE members received the Malibu residents’ message, he was not sure they would act on it.

“Finally they seemed to get our message and it was received. And I understand that the issue of representation may be put on the agenda soon, and they requested time for that,” La Monte said. “But as some members of the [SMMUSD] board have stated, maybe separation from that Santa Monica school district is our only good solution to having a voice for Malibu parents and students. And if that’s the case, if that’s how they feel about it, I would like to get a consensus from the council, Laura [Rosenthal] and I are on the education subcommittee, and I’d like us to be able to investigate the possibility weighing the advantages and disadvantages of whether we stay in the school district, or find another way.”

La Monte, during his comments at the Thursday BOE meeting, had suggested Malibu could sue for a non-voting Malibu position if the board did not agree to consider appointing one.

Malibu has not had a representative on the school board since 2008, when Kathy Wisnicki decided not to run for re-election. No Malibu residents ran in that election, and Patrick Cady, a former teacher in the school district and Malibu resident, ran unsuccessfully in the most recent election in 2010.

Relations between the BOE and Malibu have cooled in recent years after several controversies. Many in Malibu felt the community was mistreated by the BOE in 2007 during the allocation of the $268 million Measure BB bonds, which was passed by both Santa Monica and Malibu voters in 2006. The BOE reduced the amount of Measure BB facilities improvement bond measure money directed to Malibu High School from a district staff-recommended $27.5 million to $13.5 million.

Meanwhile, the money designated for Santa Monica High School was increased from the staff recommendation. The reduction for Malibu High meant a proposed middle school wing would have to be put on hold. BOE members justified the cut by noting that funding for the two Santa Monica middle schools was also being cut.

Irate Malibu residents responded that Malibu High School and Malibu Middle School were an integrated campus where students from both schools shared classrooms. Uproar from Malibu residents resulted in the $14 million eventually being restored, but La Monte highlighted that issue as a moment that generated lingering mistrust in between Malibu and the BOE.

Earlier this year, a drive to turn Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School into a charter school was rejected by the BOE.