Superintendent could leave school district by July 1

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Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Dianne Talarico could be leaving by July 1. The Santa Monica news Web site, The Lookout, reported on Wednesday that Talarico is the top candidate to head an unnamed Northern California school district.

The Web site reported on Thursday that Talarico confirmed the information, and she hoped to be in the new position by July 1. The Lookout article stated she declined to name the district, but it said unnamed sources said it was a K-8 district with less than 2,500 students. There are 12,500 students in the SMMUSD.

Talarico was not immediately available for comment on Thursday when contacted by The Malibu Times.

Talarico came to the SMMUSD in July 2006 from a school district in Canton, Ohio. She replaced John Deasy, who left the SMMUSD to take over a school system in Maryland. Talarico’s tenure has been plagued by various controversies.

In November 2006, Chief Financial Officer Winston Braham left the district after refusing to support a raise for teachers endorsed by Talarico. The secrecy of his departure, which included a signed agreement that he would not discuss district financial matters with a third party, irked the Santa Monica City Council. This dispute led to a greater confrontation about the district’s special education system. The council used its control of Santa Monica’s annual financial contribution to the district as leverage to force the SMMUSD to hire a consultant to do an audit of the special education program.

The results of the audit were included in a report released earlier this year by consultant Lou Barber & Associates. The report blasted several elements of the district’s special education program, including the use confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements between the district and parents on children’s education plans. The report was hailed by Santa Monica parents and city leaders, while many people in Malibu, including school board member Kathy Wisnicki, challenged its content.

The report led to the resignation of Deputy Superintendent Tim Walker, who was in charge of the special education program. His departure, which was not voluntary, was applauded in Santa Monica and angered those in Malibu.

Talarico has overseen a period of great division between Santa Monica and Malibu on issues other than special education. Against Talarico’s recommendation, the school board last year cut a portion of the facilities improvement bond money designated to Malibu High School. Malibu parents were outraged, and a group began the process to create an independent Malibu school district. After several months of debate, the board voted in February to restore the full funding for construction projects at Malibu High.