Board of Education member Ben Allen speaks about the state of the school district

Allen also offers his insight on the relationship between Malibu and the SMMUSD.

John W. Elman / Special to The Malibu Times

Ben Allen, at age 32, the youngest member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, spoke about the achievements and financial state of the district, as well as of Malibu’s relationship with the district at the Malibu Rotary Club meeting on Jan. 26.

A student of the district from kindergarten through graduation from Santa Monica High School in 1996, Allen said he appreciates what the district did for him-preparing him for Harvard, where many of the students come from private preparatory schools.

Despite budget cuts, test scores for students graduating from SMMUSD schools are among the top in the nation, Allen said. Since 2002, achievement scores of SMMUSD graduates have gone up 11 percent; for minorities the scores have increased even more-16 percent for African Americans students and 35 percent for Hispanic students. Ninety-five percent of the graduates from Santa Monica High School and Malibu High School go on to some type of higher education-community college, university, military or trade schools. This is in contrast to neighboring Los Angeles Unified School District, where there is a 50 percent dropout rate (the dropout rate in SMMUSD is 8 percent). The scores in AP classes are also rising, Allen said. And, besides the academic achievements, SMMUSD has managed to maintain its excellence in the arts with world-class music and theater programs, he reported.

Funding for education has been dwindling for several years. In the 1970s, California was among the highest per-pupil spending state in the nation; now it is among the least. Allen pointed out that the state of California spends only 50 percent of what the state of Vermont spends per student for education. The SMMUSD budget is due each June, and the district has always depended on the state to provide most of the funds for the budget, but the state budget is typically still not ready until months after June. To minimize the amount of program cuts and employee layoffs, and to offset the shortfall of state funding, the district has had to seek local revenue sources through parcel taxes, fundraising and help from the City of Santa Monica.

Allen said Santa Monica is giving approximately $7 million this fiscal year to the SMMUSD as part of a contractual agreement for an annual contribution. The Measure Y .5 percent sales tax that passed in the November election designates half of the estimated $12 million in expected annual revenue to benefit schools in Santa Monica and Malibu. In fact, Malibu is slated to receive half of this revenue-anticipated to be $6 million annually. Malibu has a $140,000 agreement with the SMMUSD for joint use of various Malibu facilities, a far lower contribution than that made by Santa Monica.

Allen was asked his opinion of the recent application of the Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School for status as a charter school. He said he understands the frustration of people in Malibu not having representation on the SMMUSD board, and understands they want a sense of ownership for their schools. Allen said the school has the second highest scores in the district, is the smallest school in the district and thus is the most costly school per capita to operate in the district. Before the City of Santa Monica had come up with extra funding through Measure Y, there was talk of closing the school. Point Dume parents did not want the school to close and decided to apply for charter status. They said they could raise enough money to do it and sustain it. Allen said one of the district’s concerns was that if Malibu could not come up with enough money to sustain the school, it would still be the responsibility of the SMMUSD.

Allen said the charter process itself is costly. In general, charter schools were created to bring up the conditions of inner city schools that were failing. This, Allen said, is not the case at Point Dume, a high-achieving school.

Malibu joined the Santa Monica School District many years ago, before it became a city, and when there were fewer people living here. He believes that some day Malibu may secede from the SMMUSD and form its own school district, and many people in Santa Monica would welcome that because, with the passage of Measure Y and increases in Santa Monica’s joint use agreement funding, Santa Monica is now effectively subsidizing the Malibu schools.

John W. Elman writes for the Malibu Rotary Club Surfwriter.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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