Hope For School District Independence Remains Alive, Plans Will be Reviewed

The Malibu request for an independent school district has won the latest round versus Santa Monica, with the city’s petition surviving an effort to kill it at the Los Angeles County level.

The city’s independence petition was found to have standing for review and was approved to move along in the years-long process. But it will be years for the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), state bureaucrats and possibly voters to make a final decision.

Following a two-and-a-half-hour hearing on Saturday morning, Sept. 18, Los Angeles County Office of Education Committee on School District Organization voted, 8-2, to send the request to its staff and consultants to see if it can possibly meet nine conditions set by state law. A preliminary review by the county’s consultants found a lack of information to make a decision on eight of the nine criteria.

The petition has not been approved; however, it has been moved forward for technical review.

Committee member Barry Snell, a Santa Monica resident, lost in his attempt to kill the petition during the hearing on Saturday. He said that the petition had been filed back in 2015, and Santa Monica and Malibu should have come to the committee with answers to those questions.

“Based on the time frame that they have had to negotiate this petition, that there would have been more information in relation to these nine criteria,” Snell said.

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“I would like to make a motion to deny the petition, and ask the individuals on both sides to go back to the table, to negotiate this and give us a pathway to be able to ultimately see these two districts come up with plausible economical and equitable decisions.”

Santa Monica’s inability to hand over financial information–and decision to walk away from the negotiating table–was a major complaint among those advocating for independent Malibu schools. Negotiators said the SMMUSD staff repeatedly failed to hand over public documents, financial information and other data that could have settled those issues.

Snell is a former SMMUSD board member and serves now as a member of the Santa Monica College Board. His district includes Malibu.

Other committee members noted that state law would allow citizens to pass a petition to bring the matter back to the county, even after it rejected the request from the City of Malibu.

There was no immediate comment from either side.

SMMUSD officials were drafting a press release, but School Board Chairman Jon Kean and Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati have refused to take phone calls from a Malibu reporter on this issue.

Malibu officials were discussing the meeting’s aftermath Saturday afternoon.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

This story first appeared on KBUU News.

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