Malibu Ends ‘Bad Faith’ Negotiations Over School District Separation

SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati (left) and School Board Member Craig Foster at a 2018 AMPS town hall

The road toward Malibu getting its own school district is long and winding, but city leaders decided on Monday that they were done playing nice. In a unanimous, 5-0, city council vote, a decision was made to petition the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) to intervene in an attempted separation of Malibu from the Santa Monica-based school district it has shared for decades.

About 10 years ago, Malibu parents began in earnest to work toward district separation, spurred on by AMPS (Advocates for Malibu Public Schools), an organization of school parents who wanted Malibu to have a real say in how local public education is conducted. In 2015, the City of Malibu took up the baton, initially writing a letter in support of an independent Malibu district. But in the interest of moving forward in harmony with Santa Monica schools, council decided to hold off and instead take a leadership position in negotiating an equitable split. Suffice it to say, things have not been working out.

On Monday, Oct. 12, council received its first district separation update in more than a year. 

News was not positive for those hoping for a negotiated resolution.

Council Members Rick Mullen and Karen Farrer sit on an ad hoc committee working on district separation and neither they nor the experts they brought on to provide an update minced words about their dealings with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.

“They have been negotiating in bad faith,” Mullen said.

“Things have been remarkably unsuccessful,” Christine Wood, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger, agreed, adding that they were providing an update on “really, the disappointing status of the negotiation.” Best Best & Krieger Law is the same law office where Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin works and Wood was contracted by the city to deal specifically with the school separation issue, together with financial experts LaTanya Kirk-Carter, Cathay Dominico and Terri Ryland.

Kirk-Carter detailed that Santa Monica’s school district financial consultant was asking for what amounted to $4 billion from Malibu taxpayers over the first 50 years of separation—“far, far, far above what is required by the California Department of Education guidelines.” Part of that was because the Santa Monica-based consultant left out several revenue streams including Santa Monica sales tax dollars and money given annually to the district from the City of Santa Monica. In other words, their financial model made the Santa Monica district appear more needy than it is in reality, which in turn led the district’s negotiators to ask for more and more of Malibu’s money—in fact, the district was asking for a permanent allocation of Malibu’s property tax income.

Kirk-Carter described the process as a “winding path of really, really unfair, [un]realistic aspirations to Malibu residents.” 

On a per-student basis, Ryland said Santa Monica students would not lose out on money if it was willing to let Malibu go. And Santa Monica would only need a small allocation of Malibu’s property tax dollars in order to maintain its current funding status, billions less than its requested allocation of Malibu’s property tax income. 

A separate Malibu district would not cost Malibu taxpayers more money and would not be able to increase local taxes. Meanwhile, Malibu’s per-student income was set to increase sharply over the first few years of an independent district.

“If we do this successfully… we have the capability of making a really world-class educational establishment here, for our kids,” Mullen reminded council, adding, “I think it’s going to be really a wonderful thing for the people of Malibu.”

Mask ordinance approved

All Malibu residents must wear masks—a real mask, not just a bandana—when out in public with the potential of meeting people outside their household… beginning in about six weeks.

“Masks—face coverings—are currently required in Los Angeles County by the health officer’s order when you are in public and within six feet of another person and whenever you’re in a place of business,” Hogin explained. But the ordinance was designed to help the city’s enforcement by subjecting rulebreakers to a $50 fine if they refuse to comply. It also bans certain types of face coverings that are open at the chin and, therefore, not effective in actually helping combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Back in September, Mayor Mikke Pierson pushed for a mask ordinance to be put in effect immediately through what’s known as an “urgency ordinance,” but he earned only three out of five council members’ votes in support of the measure. Urgency ordinances require a “supermajority” of at least four-fifths. 

During the Monday council meeting, Pierson got his supermajority, with only Mullen not in favor of the measure, but the item was for a traditional ordinance, meaning it will take approximately six weeks until it is enacted.

Formally, the mask rule requires a face covering over both the nose and mouth; exempts people under the age of two, who are hearing impaired or communicating with someone hearing impaired, are swimming or otherwise engaging in a water-based activity or have been told by a medical provider not to wear a face covering; and does not apply in a residential zone or vehicle when a person is six feet or more from someone not in their immediate household.

Face coverings will have to be worn at restaurants and other establishments where food is served except when actually eating or drinking. And not every strip of cloth counts as a “face covering.”

“A ‘face covering’ does not include face shields without a mask underneath, open-chin triangle bandanas, masks with exhaust valves or vents and masks that have any openings,” the ordinance states.