School Board Approves Teams for District Separation Talks


School Superintendent Sandra Lyon and Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen have picked their teams. There are 60 days on the clock.

Taking the field for the home side, representing Santa Monica, there’s Tom Larmore, Debbie Mulvaney and Paul Silvern.

On the visitor side, representing Malibu, there’s Laura Rosenthal, Kevin Shenkman and Manel Sweetmore.

The game — also referred to as a divorce — to separate the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is about to kick off.

On Thursday, Jan. 21, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved the six representatives tasked with ironing out exactly how school district separation will work in terms of logistics and finances. So far there is no word as to who the “impartial facilitator” of discussions will be.

Representatives from Malibu were selected by City Manager Jim Thorsen, who in December was officially given the power to appoint three members of the Malibu community to the committee. The three are Malibu Mayor Rosenthal, a founding member of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS); attorney Shenkman; and SMMUSD Financial Oversight Committee (FOC) member and CEO of AMPS Sweetmore.

Those selected by Lyon include three Santa Monica-based FOC members.

Thorsen’s selections came at the recommendation of AMPS, longtime advocates for an independent Malibu district.

“I didn’t have a pool of applicants — I did receive requests from about a handful of people, and I received three [suggestions] from AMPS that came highly recommended,” Thorsen told The Malibu Times. “I received a couple of other calls just supporting the AMPS recommendations.”

AMPS, which just celebrated its five-year anniversary this week, holds a lot of clout in Malibu regarding issues surrounding district separation.

“Knowing that the AMPS board recommended these three that had a pretty good history with not only legal issues but also historical issues, that’s what I leaned heavily on,” Thorsen said.

When it comes to separation, Rosenthal said challenges could go beyond just the logistics of scheduling.

“I think that one of the challenges … between the cities is really helping the representatives from the other city understanding our city, and vice versa, and the needs and challenges of each city,” Rosenthal said. One thing that may help Santa Monica understand Malibu’s desire for a separate district may be what Rosenthal holds in her back pocket: signed petitions from Malibu City Council and roughly 5,400 Malibu residents that could kick off official separation talks with Los Angeles County.

“I think [the petitions] weigh in the sense that I really truly believe that the negotiators for Santa Monica and other people in Santa Monica have a much clearer understanding of how important this is to Malibu residents and how united we are behind this desire to have our own school district,” Rosenthal said. When pressed about whether or not Malibu representatives would be willing to wield the petitions if negotiations stall, Rosenthal said it’s a non-issue.

“I’m an optimist, so I’m going to believe that negotiations will be successful, and that’s the absolute way that I’m entering this phase,” Rosenthal said.