Council endorses Point Dume Charter petition

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Santa Monica education activist voices anger over move, as it could mean loss of funding for school district.

By Jonathan Friedman / The Malibu Times

The City Council voted unanimously during it’s quarterly meeting last week Wednesday to support the petition for Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School to become a charter school. City Manager Jim Thorsen was expected to write the first draft of a letter that would be signed by Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, and forwarded to the Board of Education in time for Thursday’s public hearing on the petition.

Support from the City Council is not a requirement in the charter petition process, but City Council member Laura Rosenthal said in an interview on Monday that it was important.

“One of the things that the school board members have told the people doing the charter petition and told me is that they want to know how the people in Malibu feel about it, and specifically they want to know how the City Council feels about it,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal, who has advocated for Malibu to form its own school district, said this could be a “stepping stone to getting all four of our schools as charters.”

Charter status would put a Board of Directors in charge of most features at what would be known as Point Dume Marine Science Charter (PDMSC). This includes academics and finances. Parents are seeking the charter status because they fear the school’s dwindling population means the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will close the school, something that has happened before. Also, they want local control during the difficult economic period.

The public hearing on Thursday will take place at Malibu City Hall at 7 p.m. The board will vote on the petition Dec. 2, also at City Hall. A rejection can be appealed to the Los Angeles County Office of Education. A final appeal can go before the state Board of Education.

Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert said at last week’s council meeting that he supported the charter petition because of appreciation for the work of school principal Chi Kim and he wanted to make sure the school was preserved. He said he met hostility the previous night at the SMMUSD’s State of Our Schools session at Malibu High School when he spoke about the petition with Santa Monica education activist Rebecca Kennerly.

“I thought she was going to take my head off,” Sibert said. “She was angry this charter school petition was moving forward. I think that’s too bad this is an attitude we are going to have to deal with.”

Kennerly said in an interview on Monday that Sibert’s description of the conversation was accurate, but “it was an unguarded moment that I shouldn’t have had.”

“It was a mistake for me to have been that forthright because I don’t have all the information,” said Kennerly, who heads the powerful Santa Monica-based education group Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) and is the former head of the SMMUSD PTA Council.

A concern some in Santa Monica have about the charter issue is that it would mean a loss of funding for the district. PDMSC would receive its funding from Sacramento based on average daily attendance (ADA), and the SMMUSD would no longer get the Point Dume money. The SMMUSD would receive a fee for oversight, but if the local board rejects the petition and it is approved at either the county or state level, then the county or state would carry out the oversight and receive the funding for this.

The charter petition includes lengthy details on curriculum, financial feasibility and general school operation. It focuses on 16 elements required to be addressed by the state education code. SMMUSD staff is analyzing the petition. Superintendent Tim Cuneo said on Monday that a recommendation would be ready for the board shortly before the Dec. 2 meeting. He would not commit to a date. He said it would be finished in time to be available for public review 72 hours prior to the meeting. Meeting documents are required to be available 72 hours prior to a meeting, although there are technical ways to avoid this deadline.

The Dec. 2 meeting date is an issue of contention. Point Dume parents wanted it to be earlier because of when appeal hearings before a county and possibly a state board would take place. The parents and their consultants wanted the possible state board hearing to take place early enough so that if the petition were approved at that level, there was enough time to smoothly prepare for a fall school opening. The board rejected this request by a 4-3 vote, with Cuneo urging the rejection.