District seeks to work with S.M. City Council

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The council on Tuesday discussed its delay on deciding whether to increase its funding to the Santa Monica-Malibu School District. The delay involved concerns about financial transparency within the district.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Winston Braham, who resigned as chief financial officer from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District with an agreement not to discuss the district’s financial matters with third parties, was expected to appear at the Santa Monica City Council meeting Tuesday night. The council was slated to discuss its delay in deciding whether to increase its annual contribution to the school district by nearly a million dollars.

This followed the Board of Education’s instruction last week to the SMMUSD staff to come to an understanding with the Santa Monica City Council regarding its decision to delay the increase. The board also asked the city to discuss the district funding at its Tuesday meeting.

Last month, the Santa Monica City Council could not come to a majority decision on whether to increase the city’s annual contribution to the district from $6.5 million to $7.25 million. Council members are concerned about the district not being transparent enough with its financial matters, including those regarding special education and the resignation of Braham.

The district staff is preparing a packet of information for city officials that describes in depth the SMMUSD’s special education policy. Some of the council members were troubled by the district’s strategy, which includes forcing some of the parents to sign confidentiality agreements before their children will receive the special education services.

The Santa Monica City Council had already placed an item on its budget-voting meeting agenda (which took place after The Malibu Times went to print) to discuss the district funding.

While district officials had the opportunity to address the council at Tuesday’s meeting, they were not expected to be alone. Braham was expected to be at the meeting at the request of two Santa Monica council members.

Braham, who resigned shortly after a disagreement with SMMUSD Superintendent Dianne Talarico over a raise for the teachers, had controversially signed an agreement with the district not to discuss SMMUSD financial matters with a third party. With several council members complaining it seemed like he was being silenced, the district recently adjusted the agreement so that Braham might be able to speak with the council. The former CFO had told a Santa Monica news Web site last month that even the recent adjustment, in his opinion, did not allow him to speak freely. It is not known if he was planning to show up on Tuesday. (Look for coverage of that meeting on The Malibu Times Web site, www.malibutimes.com later this week.)

Additionally, the board instructed district staff to plan for workshops on the district’s special education policy. Talarico said she believed there would need to be more than one session to fully discuss the issue.

“Truly, this can be a yearlong course,” she said.

Search is on for new board member

Also at the meeting, the board began the process for selecting a replacement for board member Emily Bloomfield, who will be stepping down at the end of the month because she is moving to Washington D.C. where her husband received a job transfer. Any person eligible to vote in the district will be able to apply for the position. A subcommittee consisting of board members Barry Snell and Maria Leon Vazquez was assigned to create a questionnaire, which the board, as a whole, will finalize at its June 28 meeting. The questionnaire will be given to anybody interested in becoming a board member, and the candidates will fill it out and return the document to the board for review.

At a meeting later in the summer, the candidates will be interviewed in public. The board will then vote on the selection at that meeting. A replacement for Bloomfield must be chosen before the end of August, or else the district will be forced to hold a special election for the public to make the decision.

Although Bloomfield’s term does not expire until 2010, her replacement will only serve until the next General Election, which is in November 2008. The new board member will not be considered an incumbent in that election.