Santa Monica Team Pulls Plug on Separation Negotiations, Citing Lawsuit

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This story has been updated. Please see editor’s note below.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) sent out a notice Thursday evening that the negotiations meeting scheduled for Thursday night would not be attended by the three representatives from Santa Monica, who cited a voting rights lawsuit filed against the City of Santa Monica as their reason for boycotting the meeting. The notice went out less than two hours before the meeting was scheduled to begin.

The suit was filed by AMPS (Advocates for Malibu Public Schools) along with other groups from Santa Monica.

Tom Larmore, Paul Silvern and Debbie Mulvaney, the Santa Monica negotiating committee representatives, sent a letter to SMMUSD administrators Thursday to inform them of the decision, according to information provided by SMMUSD spokespeople.

The committee was scheduled to have its second official meeting to decide terms of separation of the SMMUSD into two districts, one serving Santa Monica and the other serving Malibu. The committee’s 60 day clock has already begun counting down.

According to the release, “the concern of the Santa Monica committee members is that the complaint was filed by Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS), along with other parties, against the City of Santa Monica, and it asks the Court to declare that the Santa Monica City Charter provision specifying at-large elections to the school board is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.”

The lawsuit evidently caught the Santa Monican committee members off guard.

“This lawsuit was filed by AMPS and Mr. Shenkman completely without warning, thereby materially impairing the collaborative nature of our discussions. In the spirit of collaboration we should have been informed that this action was forthcoming,” Larmore said in the document prepared by the SMMUSD. “We are concerned that the inclusion of issues relating to the District and the participation of AMPS have no purpose other than to attempt to influence our negotiations. We view this as a serious matter and believe that no further meetings should be held until we have an opportunity to report to the Board and receive direction from them.”

The three members of the Santa Monica team will present a report discussing the future of the negotiation process at the May 5 School Board meeting.

Members of the Malibu negotiation team, Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal, Kevin Shenkman and Manel Sweetmore, were not immediately available for comment.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Thursday’s meeting was the first official separation meeting. It would have been the second such meeting.