SMMUSD School Board unanimously approves $6 million agreement

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The board unanimously approved the agreement that would guarantee the district at least $6 million each year from Santa Monica through at least 2009. Board members fear Malibu will get the wrong idea from agreement, and not contribute more dollars to the district.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved an agreement last Thursday with the city of Santa Monica on district funding through at least the year 2009. The agreement was expected to go before the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday night after The Malibu Times went to press. The education activist group, Community for Excellent Public Schools, said it supported the agreement, and will most likely not attempt to put a measure on the Santa Monica ballot in November regarding district funding, an election many said would have torn the community apart.

With the agreement, the city would give the district a minimum of $6 million annually in exchange for use of district facilities beginning with the upcoming fiscal year. That amount would be increased for a cost of living adjustment of 2 percent to 4 percent each year. In January 2007, the city and the district would meet to assess the financial situation of the two and the state of community use of the district facilities. At that time, they would decide whether the funding amount should be increased or decreased by a maximum of $1 million or remain the same, depending on Santa Monica’s revenue health.

The two entities would meet again in January 2009 to discuss whether the contract should be extended another two and a half years, with the possibility of the funding amount increasing or decreasing by $1 million plus a cost of living adjustment. If the extension were approved, the two would meet again after another two and half years to discuss a second extension for the same amount of time with the exact conditions.

If revenue ever were to increase during any two-year period during the contract by at least 7.5 percent, the two entities would meet to discuss increasing city funding beyond the $1 million cap. Also, if city revenue were ever to decline by at least 7.5 percent, the city could call a conference to discuss temporarily suspending the contract.

CEPS, an organization of parents and community activists, had proposed a measure similar to the agreement earlier this year as an amendment to the Santa Monica City Charter. The group then gathered enough petition signatures to place the item on the November ballot. Santa Monica City Councilmembers blasted the measure as guaranteeing money that might not necessarily be available and city employees said it could threaten their jobs. During the past several weeks, SMMUSD Superintendent John Deasy and Santa Monica City Manager Susan McCarthy met to reach an agreement on district funding. The two were forced to work quickly, because CEPS said it would turn in its petition on May 5, irreversibly setting up the election.

CEPS did not turn in the petition on May 5, choosing to look at the agreement first. The terms of the agreement were released on that day. CEPS members voted to support it, and said they would not go forward with submitting the petition, assuming the City Council approves the deal. CEPS co-Chair Shari Davis said the organization got the wheels in motion for the city and the district to craft an agreement.

“There’s no question CEPS is very proud of our role to bring this issue into the forefront,” Davis said. “Our mission has always been to bring stable, ongoing funding to the district. And this agreement does that.”

As for how Malibu will be affected by the agreement, that depends on what occurs with the proposed district gift policy. The Board of Education has already approved in concept a proposal for 15 percent of district donations to be placed into a fund, with that money being distributed to the schools based on a formula that gives more to those with economically disadvantaged students and other hardships. It has not been determined whether money from the cities would be included in the policy. Currently, most of the money from the cities just goes directly into the district’s General Fund, although some of it is designated for specific programs.

Several board members called into question whether Malibu was giving its fair share to the pot. President Jose Escarce said he did not think so, saying the city was getting more revenue than it was contributing. Board member Julia Brownley said she feared the Santa Monica agreement could give Malibu City Councilmembers what she called the wrong idea.

“I’m fearful that the decision makers in Malibu see this and say there’s really not a need for more,” Brownley said.

This fiscal year, the city of Malibu gave $380,000 to the district, an unprecedented amount. It also reached a major joint-use agreement with the district for the use of sports facilities. Deasy said he had not yet met with Malibu officials about city funding for next fiscal year.

Malibu’s lone representative on the board defended his hometown, saying that people forget that there is a significant size difference between the two cities both in population and budget.

“We do have to keep in mind that Malibu’s resources are limited,” Board Member Mike Jordan said. “It is a small city. And the budget is not large.”

The 2003-04 Fiscal Year budget or Malibu including capital projects f was just more than $20 million, compared to Santa Monica’s $350 million. The population of Santa Monica is about 85,000, while Malibu’s is just more than 13,000.